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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Implementation and monitoring measures to reduce agricultural impacts on water quality: US experience

item Dell, Curtis
item Kleinman, Peter
item Veith, Tameria - Tamie
item Maguire, Rory

Submitted to: Irish Journal of Agricultural Research
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 4/14/2009
Publication Date: 7/20/2010
Citation: Dell, C.J., Kleinman, P.J., Veith, T.L., Maguire, R.O. 2009. Implementation and monitoring measures to reduce agricultural impacts on water quality: US experience. Tearmann: Irish Journal of Agri-Environmental Research. 17:103-115.

Interpretive Summary: An international conference to address implementation of the European Union’s Water Framework Directive in grassland agricultural systems was held in Wexford, Ireland in November of 2008. This manuscript contains materials presented at the conference and will be published in a special edition of the Irish agricultural research journal Tearmann. While confined livestock production has been a much higher priority for water quality research and regulation than grassland agriculture in the US, several cooperative projects (with grassland components) can provide useful guidance to the Europeans. One of these projects is the National Phosphorus Project, in which researchers from the USDA and universities from across the US used standardized protocols to develop and test assessment tools to guide farmers and regulators when determining the risk of P losses when manures are land applied. The phosphorus indexing tools, developed largely from efforts of the project, have been adopted for nutrient management planning 47 states. The second project with implications for grassland systems in Europe is the New York Watershed Agriculture Program (WAP). As part of efforts to avoid costly filtration needed to remove excess phosphorus from drinking water obtained by New York City from reservoirs in the Catskills, the WAP was developed to facilitate voluntary changes in agricultural management (primarily dairy and beef production) leading to reductions in the export of P and other pollutants within those watersheds. Coordinated efforts of state, county, and federal agencies has provided technical and financial support to farmers and research that resulted in improved management practices and procedures for the cost-effective targeting of management practices to specific locations in the landscape. The third project discussed is the Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP), which is a multi-state USDA project linking water quality monitoring to validation and improvement of computer simulations and national assessments. Because the direct measurement of the impact of recommended land management practices is often difficult, we encourage the Europeans to carryout a similar project to guide improvements in the selection and placement of conservation practices.

Technical Abstract: As European nations move toward compliance with the EU Water Framework Directive, national efforts to manage and regulate agricultural impacts on water quality in the US can provide useful guidance. Concentration of livestock and poultry production in the US has changed the distribution of nutrients and negatively impacted water quality in many major watersheds. While nitrogen losses from agricultural lands have long been a concern, the relatively recent increases in phosphorous (P) losses have accelerated eutrophication of surface waters. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and cooperating agencies of individual state governments have responded by establishing requirements for nutrient management plans for large animal production operations (greater than 200 animal units). Compliance by smaller farms is normally voluntary, but federal and state governments provide incentives for many best management practices (BMPs) to reduce nutrient and sediment pollution through grants and cost-share programs. Several cooperative projects in the US may be of interest to European nations. One example is the National Phosphorus Project (NPP), in which federal and university researchers from across the US established common protocol to establish soil P thresholds and refine P indexing tools. The NPP led to the adoption of P indexing tools in most US states and demonstrated that a coordinated multi-state research project can effectively provide assessment tools needed by regulators. An example of a multi-agency research and implementation program with a large grassland component is the Watershed Agriculture Project (WAP) in New York. This project was developed to mitigate excess nutrient and pathogen levels entering agricultural watersheds in the Catskill region that provide drinking water for New York City. As an alternative to spending billions of dollars on additional water filtration facilities, WAP has supported site-specific research and has worked with individual farmers to develop whole farm plans to control nutrient, sediment, and pathogen export to the watersheds. These comprehensive management plans maintain both environmental protection and farm production by considering factors such as animal feeding strategies, manure management, cover cropping, and stream bank fencing. The WAP serves as a model for a successful, comprehensive voluntary program. In order to better analyze the impacts of federally-funded conservation programs, the US Department of Agriculture initiated the Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP) in 2003. The project utilizes past and ongoing monitoring and experimental data to validate prediction models that are, in turn, used to assess the benefits of conservation practices regionally and nationally. While findings from the project are in the preliminary stage, we recommend that the EU consider a similar effort in conjunction with implementation of the Water Framework to provide feedback on impacts of the practices used and guide future BMP recommendations.

Last Modified: 06/23/2017
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