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ARS Home » Northeast Area » University Park, Pennsylvania » Pasture Systems & Watershed Management Research » Research » Research Project #440090

Research Project: FY 2021 Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP) - Benchmark Watershed Assessment Studies (on Croplands) - University Park

Location: Pasture Systems & Watershed Management Research

Project Number: 8070-13000-015-017-I
Project Type: Interagency Reimbursable Agreement

Start Date: Jul 31, 2021
End Date: Sep 30, 2024

As the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (PA) increases adoption of agricultural best management practices (BMPs) to meet nutrient and sediment reduction goals mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency, the extent to which these BMPs also reduce transport of contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) from agricultural sources is a topic of increasing interest across the Chesapeake Bay watershed, with water quality implications at local, regional, national, and international scales. However, documentation is sparse on potential pollutant mitigating co-benefits of individual and stacked BMPs, especially at the field and watershed scales, with data that exist to date dominantly from experimental plot-scale and laboratory studies. Hence, the primary objective of this sub project is to continue to evaluate the impacts of agricultural conservation practices on water quality, with a particular focus on considering co-benefits of individual and stacked BMPs. This subproject is intended to enhance and support the overarching Cropland CEAP effort across locations and will act dynamically as needed to provide that support.

In FY21 we will work with CEAP leaders to propose expansion of the CEAP network to include Halfmoon Creek, a HUC12 (020503020402) watershed neighboring the University Park location’s home watershed of Spring Creek. In Halfmoon Creek's March 2018 Sediment TMDL report it is paired with the neighboring Beaver Branch (020503020401) as its reference watershed. These primarily agricultural watersheds both feed into the Spruce Creek-Little Juniata River (020503020404) and eventually to the Chesapeake Bay. Spruce Creek and Halfmoon Creek are designated as high quality, cold water fisheries but are impaired by sediment and other pollutants from agricultural activities. Restoring these waterways to their designated use are a high priority in PA. A Watershed Implementation Plan is currently being developed for Halfmoon Creek watershed by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in collaboration with various project partners, including Centre County Conservation District, Pennsylvania State University and USDA-ARS, for adoption of new BMPs that can mitigate sediment-laden runoff and restore water quality. We are proposing long-term work in Halfmoon and Spruce Creek because of the TMDL, our ground-floor involvement with a recent community-based planning process to create a restoration plan (the Bay's Watershed Implementation Plan, phase III, for this watershed), our proximity to the watershed and ability to respond quickly to storm events and equipment, and the opportunity to get pre- and post-BMP data. Because the Halfmoon watershed restoration plan has not yet been implemented, the University Park location proposes to take a lead with watershed partners to install monitoring equipment that can establish baseline data on sediment and nutrient data as well as on the occurrence of CECs in Halfmoon Creek and its tributaries. In the long-term, such data will provide pre- and post-BMP assessments of the effectiveness of these conservation practices and will also serve as the baseline for evaluating potential co-benefits of sediment-mitigating BMPs on reducing the occurrence, fate, transport, and impacts of CECs of agricultural origin. We continue to collect land management data for our CEAP Mahantango watershed along with monitoring data, and we would begin a similar process for the Halfmoon/Spruce Creek region. This is critical in correctly factoring in spatial and temporal impacts of upstream management along with climate and physiographical characteristics when evaluating and interpreting conservation practice effectiveness.