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ARS Home » Plains Area » Temple, Texas » Grassland Soil and Water Research Laboratory » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #319154

Title: Effects of agricultural conservation practices on N loads in the Mississippi-Atchafalya River Basin

Author
item SANTHI, C - TEXAS AGRILIFE RESEARCH
item Arnold, Jeffrey
item White, Michael
item DI LUZIO, M - TEXAS AGRILIFE RESEARCH
item KANNAN, N - TARLETON STATE UNIVERSITY
item NORFLEET, L - NATURAL RESOURCES CONSERVATION SERVICE (NRCS, USDA)
item ATWOOD, J - NATURAL RESOURCES CONSERVATION SERVICE (NRCS, USDA)
item KELLOGG, R - NATURAL RESOURCES CONSERVATION SERVICE (NRCS, USDA)
item WANG, X - TEXAS AGRILIFE RESEARCH
item WILLIAMS, J - TEXAS AGRILIFE RESEARCH
item GERIK, T - TEXAS AGRILIFE RESEARCH

Submitted to: Journal of Environmental Quality
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 3/5/2014
Publication Date: 11/10/2014
Citation: Santhi, C., Arnold, J.G., White, M.J., Di Luzio, M., Kannan, N., Norfleet, L., Atwood, J., Kellogg, R., Wang, X., Williams, J.R., Gerik, T. 2014. Effects of agricultural conservation practices on N loads in the Mississippi-Atchafalya River Basin. Journal of Environmental Quality. 43:1903-1915.

Interpretive Summary: Agricultural production in the Mississippi River Basin is important to the national economy and to water quality in the Gulf of Mexico. The Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP) was initiated to determine the environmental impacts of USDA Conservation practices and was utilized in this study in the Mississippi River Basin. The objective of this study was to determine the impact of conservation practices on nitrogen loads in the Mississippi River Basin and gain insight on reducing the hypoxic (dead) zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Model results indicate that significant reductions in the nitrogen entering the Gulf have already been made and further improvements are possible with additional conservation practices.

Technical Abstract: A modeling framework consisting of a farm-scale model, Agricultural Policy Environmental Extender (APEX); a watershedscale model, Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT); and databases was used in the Conservation Effects Assessment Project to quantify the environmental benefits of conservation practices on cropland. APEX is used to simulate conservation practices on cultivated cropland and Conservation Reserve Program land to assess the edge-of-field water-quality benefits. Flow and pollutant loadings from APEX are input to SWAT. SWAT simulates the remaining noncultivated land and routes flow and loads generated from noncultivated land, point sources, and cropland to the basin outlet. SWAT is used for assessing the effects of practices on local and in-stream water-quality benefits. Each river basin is calibrated and validated for streamflow and loads at multiple gauging stations. The objectives of the current study are to estimate the effects of currently existing and additional conservation practices on total N (TN) loads in the Mississippi–Atchafalaya River Basin (MARB) and draw insights on TN load reductions necessary for reducing the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico. The effects of conservation practice scenarios on local and in-stream (riverine) water quality are evaluated. Model results indicate that conservation practices currently on cropland have reduced the TN losses to local waters between 20 and 59% in the six river basins within MARB and the TN load discharged to the Gulf by 17%. Further water-quality improvement can be obtained in the MARB with additional conservation treatment.