USDA Cooperative State, Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) Grant Program

Integrated Research, Education, and Extension Competitive Grants Program: Evaluating the Effects of Conservation Practices on Water Quality within the Biophysical Setting of a Watershed

Award Amount:  $645,000 over three years
Principal Investigators:  David K. Stevens, Darwin Sorensen, Nancy Mesner, Douglas Jackson-Smith, Jeffery S. Horsburgh

CSREES and the Natural Resources Conservation Service requested applications to evaluate the effects of watershed conservation practices with a focus on understanding how the suite of conservation practices, the timing of these activities, and the spatial distribution of these practices throughout a watershed influence their effectiveness for achieving locally defined water quality goals. A collaborative team of researchers at Utah State University and the Utah Water Research Laboratory responded to this request and received funding to study the effects of conservation practices on water quality in the Little Bear River Watershed in northern Utah.

The study is designed to evaluate whether adoption of several agricultural best management practices have had a measurable impact on phosphorus loadings into the Little Bear River. A review of historical ambient water quality data suggests an aggregate decline in phosphorus loadings in the Little Bear River watershed. The use of fine-grained data from throughout this watershed will enable the determination of whether these changes are related to the implementation of management practices.

The core research objectives to be addressed by this project include:

  1. To determine whether publicly funded programs to promote the adoption of agricultural conservation best management practices were able to reduce phosphorus loadings into surface waters in the Little Bear watershed,
  2. To critically examine the strengths and weaknesses of different water quality monitoring techniques, and
  3. To make recommendations to policymakers, agricultural conservation field staff, and other interested parties to ensure that future management efforts are targeted towards the most effective and socioeconomically viable agricultural best management practices.

The results of this work will help future agricultural conservation programs focus on the most effective practices, and can be used to develop new protocols to increase the efficiency of water quality monitoring efforts.

Maps of the Little Bear River Watershed:

Full text of the collaborative proposal: