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 »
Snowmelt on Mount Hood sends ample water down a stream in Oregon. NRCS photo.
April storms delivered a mix of rain and snow to the northern half of the West but didn’t provide much relief for the dry southern half, according to the latest USDA water supply forecast.
Washington, most of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and the northern parts of Colorado and Utah, are expected to have near normal or above normal water supplies, according to the forecasts from the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s National Water and Climate Center (NWCC). Streamflows that are far below normal are forecast for the southern parts of Oregon and Utah, southwestern Idaho, California, Arizona, New Mexico and western Nevada. Read more »
Ninety-four year old former Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Council Member Marcella Le Beau celebrates the final stages of a major project underway to bring abundant and safe water to the Cheyenne River Reservation.
Over 20 years ago, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Council Member, Marcella Le Beau had a vision for her community. She was part of the initial planning process to bring abundant, safe drinking water to her tribe in north central South Dakota. It has been a multi-year undertaking beginning with a new water intake on the Missouri River. Today, the second phase is underway to increase the undersized water treatment plant. On Earth Day last week, I had the honor of gathering with Marcella, Senator Tim Johnson, and others on the ground where the new plant and trunk line from the Missouri River will be built.
“It is a momentous day for our Cheyenne River Sioux family,” Marcella told me, “We have worked a very long time, with many dedicated people involved, to make this happen.”
Read more »
Planting foxtail millet, a summer annual forage with low water needs, helps conserve water for subsequent crops. Photo by Scott Bauer.
An up-and-coming conservation practice offered by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) helps farmers and ranchers manage water on their land, keep water clean and better cope with extreme weather like drought.
Drainage water management enables landowners to determine when and how much water leaves farms through underground tiles and drainage ditches. Underground tiles lay beneath fields removing excess water from the soil subsurface.
“Since landowners don’t need the same drainage intensity at all times during the year, this practice lets them use their drainage water in a way that’s most advantageous to them, their crops and the environment,” NRCS Senior Project Leader Paul Sweeney said. Read more »
As part of USDA’s weeklong celebration of the 44th anniversary of Earth Day, I had the pleasure of visiting Wayne County, Pennsylvania to announce funding that will bring improved water and wastewater services to residents and businesses of The Hideout, one of the state’s lake communities in the Pocono Mountains.
Thanks to congressional passage of the 2014 Farm Bill, USDA Rural Development received an additional $150 million to help rural communities build or upgrade water and wastewater systems in 40 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. We are pairing that grant money with an additional $232 million in regular funding to support 116 projects nationwide. Read more »
A member of the Geronimo Interagency Hotshot Crew, Department of the Interior (DOI) Indian Affairs (IA) Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) San Carlos Agency in Arizona; on assignment. The combined effects of droughts and insects may lead to a pulse of tree mortality that increases the potential for intense fires. USDA Photo by Lance Cheung.
The climate statistics for the first month of 2014 have been impressive. Extreme weather has lashed the United States from Alaska to Florida with record warmth, cold, dry and wet conditions all at the same time. The National Climatic Data Center reports that January of 2014 was the driest January on record for New Mexico, 2nd driest for Arizona and 3rd driest for California. January 2014 was also in the top ten of coldest Januaries on record for much of the upper Midwest.
Extreme drought conditions in the western U.S. are dramatically impacting water supplies critical to agriculture and elevating fire risk across our National Forests. Across the continent frequent cold waves have repeatedly threatened winter crops across the Southeast while frost depths reaching several feet will impact springtime planting across the Midwest. This kind of winter gets everyone talking about the weather. It brings to mind the quote “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it,” often attributed to Mark Twain (but apparently said by a friend). Read more »