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Title: Erosion and sedimentation research in agricultural watersheds in the USA: From past to present and beyond

item Romkens, Mathias

Submitted to: Book Chapter
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: 7/25/2010
Publication Date: 8/1/2010
Citation: Romkens, M.J. 2010. Erosion and sedimentation research in agricultural watersheds in the USA: From past to present and beyond. In: Sediment Dynamics for a Changing Future. K. Banasik, A.J. Horowitz, P.N. Owens, M. Stone and D.E. Walling (Eds.): IAHS Publ. 337:17-26.

Interpretive Summary: Erosion and sedimentation are natural processes that occur most everywhere on the globe. Where man has settled and used the land for food production, the processes of erosion and sedimentation have accelerated, sometimes to catastrophic levels. History is replete with examples of regions that were devastated due to the mismanagement of the land. The catastrophic conditions of land erosion that developed in the USA by the European settlers between 1830 and 1930 were the inspiration for legislation to address this problem through research of programs that initially consisted of soil loss measurements on natural runoff plots and small agricultural watersheds. In this article, the author describes how erosion and conservation research programs came about and developed. He describes the initial emphasis on preserving the land productivity (an upland area perspective and on-site problem) followed in due time to concerns of the watershed stream system (off-site problem) with a distinct water quality and ecological emphasis. He also indicates the prominent role that watershed modeling has played in erosion and sedimentation research. Lastly, he briefly discusses the current emphasis in watershed research involving Total Maximum Daily Load, the Conservation Effect Assessment Project, and Dam Safety and Stability concerns.

Technical Abstract: In ancient times, sediment and sedimentation were a blessing that brought fertility to the land and made it possible for people to live and prosper. This is the story of the Egyptians in the Nile Delta where they lived this way for thousands of years in harmony with annual floods that brought soil and nutrients to the land. In other places, sediment and sedimentation proved to be valuable for gaining new land (Netherlands). But then in other places and in recent times sediment was seen as a nuisance that caused flooding, destroyed or damaged human habitat, and adversely impacted productive land because of excessive sedimentation. This article discusses in a brief manner how erosion and sedimentation research in agriculture came to be what it is to-day in the USA. That experience has guided in many ways today’s erosion and sedimentation research programs and conservation efforts around the world. Secondly, and again in a limited way, the current focus of erosion and sedimentation research in the USA will be described as well as the problems the USA faces today and how they are addressed.