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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: Agricultural Water Management in Poorly Drained Midwestern Agroecosystems

Location: Soil Drainage Research

Project Number: 5080-13210-002-00-D
Project Type: In-House Appropriated

Start Date: May 15, 2017
End Date: May 14, 2022

Objective:
The overall objective of this project is to address the hydrologic, biogeochemical, and ecological processes and impacts of crop production agriculture and conservation practices in the poorly drained Midwestern US while sustaining increased productivity. Specific objectives include: Objective 1: Develop technology to identify the location and density of tile drainage systems. Objective 2: Characterize the coupling of hydrologic and chemical/biogeochemical processes in tile drained landscapes and its impact on water quality in the Mississippi River and Western Lake Erie Basins. Objective 3: Develop water management and treatment technologies for subsurface drainage that provide strategies to help farmers, ranchers, and other land managers adapt to climate variability and change at a variety of spatial and temporal scales. Objective 4: As part of the LTAR network, and in concert with similar long-term, land-based research infrastructure in the Midwest region, use the Eastern Corn Belt LTAR site to improve the observational capabilities and data accessibility of the LTAR network and support research to sustain or enhance agricultural production and environmental quality in agroecosystems characteristic of the Midwest region. Research and data collection are planned and implemented based on the LTAR site application and in accordance with the responsibilities outlined in the LTAR Shared Research Strategy, a living document that serves as a roadmap for LTAR implementation. Participation in the LTAR network includes research and data management in support of the ARS GRACEnet and/or Livestock GRACEnet projects.

Approach:
Water quantity and quality continue to be major natural resource concerns in the United States. As the pressure to produce more food, feed, fiber and fuel from our agricultural lands increases, the need for protecting soil and water resources and ecosystem services within poorly drained watersheds accelerates exponentially. In the Midwestern United States, excess water is rapidly removed through subsurface drainage and agricultural drainage ditches to facilitate agricultural crop production. Excessive levels of nutrients exported with drainage water from agricultural landscapes contribute to downstream algal blooms and hypoxic zones. Sediment, nutrient and pesticide mixtures found in waterways adjacent to agricultural production may also disrupt stream ecosystem function and have deleterious effects on aquatic biota. Information on the primary transport pathways of nutrients and the temporal delivery through these pathways at the field and watershed scales is sparse. Conservation practices (i.e., 4Rs, cover crops, drainage water management, grassed filter strips) are being implemented at a rapid rate across many watersheds to mitigate the effects of agricultural production, but their effectiveness has not been fully evaluated. The research consists of location specific and cross location research projects that investigate the impacts of agricultural land use, production management, and conservation practices on edge-of-field water quality (surface and subsurface flow pathways) and aquatic biota. Additionally, technologies and approaches to address these issues under a changing climate will be evaluated. The research will primarily be conducted in three high priority watersheds in Ohio: 1) Upper Big Walnut Creek; 2) Grand Lake St. Mary; and 3) Western Lake Erie Basin. Understanding the watershed scale transport pathways, timing, and ecological impact within these agricultural landscapes will facilitate the identification, design, and implementation of conservation practices to mitigate or reduce the environmental impact of agricultural land use

Last Modified: 07/21/2017
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