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Posts tagged: water quality

The Cost of Cleaning Up the Chesapeake Bay

Marsh grasses in Maryland  provide valuable habitat for wildlife and help filter runoff from nearby farms. NRCS photo.

Marsh grasses in Maryland provide valuable habitat for wildlife and help filter runoff from nearby farms. NRCS photo.

The Chesapeake Bay is a valuable resource. The Bay is home to a variety of species, such as blue crab and striped bass, provides jobs for local fishing communities, and serves as a place to interact with nature. About a quarter of the land in the Chesapeake Bay watershed is devoted to agriculture. The crops and livestock produced in this region provide food and fiber for millions of Americans. But these agricultural lands do more than produce food—they can play a role in improving the Bay’s water quality.

In 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) worked with the Bay states to set water quality goals for the Chesapeake Bay and to develop Watershed Improvement Plans, or “WIPs,” for each of the states. Read more »

USDA Announces Support to Improve Water Quality in Targeted Watersheds

Andreas Farm installed a buffer to help improve water quality. NRCS photo.

Andreas Farm installed a buffer to help improve water quality. NRCS photo.

Running an economical and environmentally friendly dairy operation is a tough job but Andreas Farms is dedicated to meeting the challenge. That challenge involves running an efficient milking operation of more than 1,500 dairy cows while also managing tons of animal waste.

Dan Andreas is a dairy man who runs the successful operation that produces 38 million pounds of milk each year, and he’s a conservationist who strives to protect his hometown’s watershed. The East Branch South Fork Sugar Creek watershed is one of three priority Ohio watersheds that are in critical need of water quality improvements. Read more »

Watching Our Water

Preventing movement of agricultural chemicals from crop fields to streams is a key part of protecting our water quality.  Here, an ARS scientist examines a farmer’s subsurface drain pipe.  Photo by ARS.

Preventing movement of agricultural chemicals from crop fields to streams is a key part of protecting our water quality. Here, an ARS scientist examines a farmer’s subsurface drain pipe. Photo by ARS.

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

There’s no farming without water. Recent droughts in the United States and elsewhere underscore our need to conserve water in agricultural production, and studies have identified agricultural management practices that help protect water quality.  USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) researchers are making key contributions to these efforts.

For instance, ARS scientists use moisture information collected by satellites to develop the Evaporative Stress Index.  In 2012, this tool predicted that drought conditions were developing weeks before other drought monitoring networks made the same call. ARS researchers also use satellite data to design methods of estimating rainfall amounts in regions where setting up sampling stations would be a challenge, work that has long-range potential for improving precipitation estimates globally. Read more »

Picture it! Conservation!

This month USDA will be highlighting the value of conservation with a different focus each week.

Sometimes the benefits of conservation can be abstract. For example, think a minute about the dollar value of a single tree. Can you come up with a number?

Did you consider that the tree creates oxygen, captures carbon and provides wildlife habitat? Or that the tree serves as a windbreak, shades and cools the surrounding area, and improves water quality? Don’t forget, these benefits extend for many decades over the lifetime of a healthy tree. Read more »

Fieldprint Calculator Uses a USDA Tool to Help Farmers Track Water Quality Improvement

A stalk-puller attachment is drawn through this cotton test field near Weslaco, Texas, by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) field technician Victor Valladares. USDA photo by Jack Dykinga.

A stalk-puller attachment is drawn through this cotton test field near Weslaco, Texas, by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) field technician Victor Valladares. USDA photo by Jack Dykinga.

A nonprofit for sustainable agriculture recently launched a new metric in its calculator that relies on a popular tool from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Field to Market, the Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, recently updated its Fieldprint Calculator that measures outcomes in the field to include a metric to measure water quality. This metric relies on NRCS’ Water Quality Index for Agricultural Runoff, or WQIag, which enables farmers to input variables about their field, such as slope, soil characteristics, nutrient and pest management, tillage practices and conservation practices to calculate impact on water quality. Read more »

USDA Helps Water Quality Trading Systems Thrive in the Chesapeake Bay Region

Staff members from the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and the Maryland Forest Service advise a forest landowner on options for how to  participate in a water quality trading system.

Staff members from the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and the Maryland Forest Service advise a forest landowner on options for how to participate in a water quality trading system.

Government agencies and organizations in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia have been building water quality trading systems during the past few years to lower the cost of regulatory compliance with water quality laws.

These trading systems enable  farmers, ranchers and forest landowners in these Chesapeake Bay-area states to generate income by selling water quality credits to regulated entities like waste water treatment facilities and developers. As this market matures, people will be able to incorporate clean water into their overall management objectives more seamlessly.

The Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, with funding from a USDA Conservation Innovation Grant, is developing tools to make it easier for people who own or manage forests to offer up their forested land for possible water quality and other ecosystem service credits. The alliance is working to streamline the credit development process for water quality trading on forested land in the region. Read more »