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Research Project: Agricultural Water Management in Poorly Drained Midwestern Agroecosystems

Location: Soil Drainage Research

Title: One size does not fit all: towards regional conservation practice guidance to reduce phosphorus loss risk in the Lake Erie watershed

item MACRAE, MERRIN - University Of Waterloo
item JARVIE, HELEN - University Of Waterloo
item BROUWER, RAY - University Of Waterloo
item GUNN, GRANT - University Of Waterloo
item REID, KEITH - Agriculture And Agri-Food Canada
item JOOSSE, PAM - Agriculture And Agri-Food Canada
item King, Kevin
item Kleinman, Peter
item Smith, Douglas
item Williams, Mark

Submitted to: Journal of Environmental Quality
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 3/12/2021
Publication Date: 5/4/2021
Citation: Macrae, M., Jarvie, H., Brouwer, R., Gunn, G., Reid, K., Joosse, P., King, K.W., Kleinman, P.J., Smith, D.R., Williams, M.R., Zwonitzer, M. 2021. One size does not fit all: towards regional conservation practice guidance to reduce phosphorus loss risk in the Lake Erie watershed. Journal of Environmental Quality. 50(3):529-546.

Interpretive Summary: Nutrient loss, particularly phosphorus, from production agriculture plague waterbodies worldwide, leading to hypoxia and harmful algal blooms. Action agencies and environmental groups continue to advocate and promote management and conservation practices to reduce nutrient losses. However, the effectiveness of these practices is generally assumed equal across landscapes and geographies. The Lake Erie watershed was used to illustrate differences in climate, soil, topography, and land use that affect the adoption and impact of various management and conservation practices. The findings highlight the need for policy makers and practitioners to understand that a single approach to conservation management will not work and that a regional and site specific approach is needed for viable conservation selection and implementation.

Technical Abstract: Agricultural phosphorus losses to surface water bodies remain a global eutrophication concern, despite the application of conservation practices on farm fields. Although it is generally agreed upon that ‘stacking’ conservation practices will lead to greater improvements to water quality, this may not be cost-effective to farmers, reducing the likelihood of adoption. At present, wholesale recommendations of conservation practices are given; however, the application of specific conservation practices in certain environments may not be effective and can even lead to unintended consequences. In this paper, we present the Lake Erie watershed as a case study that contains regions with unique physical geographies that include differences in climate, soil, topography and land use. We review the scientific literature to demonstrate that these geographic differences have implications for both phosphorus transport from agricultural fields and the efficacy of conservation practices in mitigating phosphorus losses. To improve the quality of water leaving fields in the Lake Erie watershed, we suggest that conservation practice recommendations should be regionally-tailored, adaptive and cost-conscious. Although this paper is specific to the Lake Erie watershed, the approach used here is transferable across broader geographic regions and can provide guidance for watershed planning.