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 *Source Water Protection

USEPA summaries of agricultural watershed protection programs

USEPA has provided descriptions of various successful watershed and source water protection case studies:

The following examples include experience with agricultural issues and BMPs. The descriptions below focus on the water quality issues and BMPs implemented. Additional information is available on the referenced web sites, including partnering organizations and funding sources.

  • Springfield, Missouri – well-known agricultural program, including demonstration BMP project sites for educating farmers
  • Upper and Lower Bad River Watersheds (central South Dakota) – includes erosion BMPs, monitoring and education programs; results suggest sedimentation reaching the Missouri River has been reduced by 30 percent, and measured success in one subwatershed showed a drop in sediment loading from 82.7 down to 10.2 tons per acre/foot of runoff over a period of five (5) years
  • North Fork of the Ninnescah River Watershed (south-central Kansas) – includes numerous agricultural BMPs, as well as on-farm demonstrations, farm tours, educational workshops and farmer-to-farmer meetings. In addition to the watershed program obtaining traditional cost-share funding (e.g., USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentive Program), the City of Wichita contributes funding for BMPs so that in some cases farmers incur no expenses
  • Little Rabbit River Watershed (southwest Michigan) – efforts for sedimentation and nutrient control include a partnership that created a resource management system involving 16 different BMPs on over 17,000 acres
  • Skaneateles Lake Watershed ( Syracuse, New York) – effective watershed agricultural program (a separate case study description prepared specifically for this research project is described below)
  • Lower Truckee River (Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation, Nevada) – uncontrolled cattle grazing and poor agricultural practices resulted in the loss of instream and riparian habitat, degrading the water quality of the Lower Truckee River and Pyramid Lake. Livestock fencing, laser leveling of agricultural fields, and other agricultural BMPs have successfully reduced in-stream nitrogen levels and led to achievement of water quality standards in the river
  • Tar-Pamlico River Basin (North Carolina) – row crops and AFOs in the basin, one of three main feeders to the US’s second largest estuary (the Albemarle-Pamlico Sound) led to excessive nutrients in the estuary, eventually resulting in it being added to the state’s 303(d) list for chlorophyll a. Reduced fertilizer use, riparian buffers, implementation of conservation tillage practices and other agricultural BMPs led to a 30 percent reduction in nitrogen loads and allowed one section of the estuary to be removed from the 303(d) list
  • Neuse River ( North Carolina) – the Neuse River is one of three main feeders to the Albemarle-Pamlico Sound. High nitrogen levels in runoff from crops, pasture land, and AFOs led to frequent algal blooms, hypoxic conditions, and fish kills in the river. Implementation by the agricultural community of various BMPs, including buffers, contour planting, no-till planting, and creek fencing, helped contribute to a 42-percent decrease in nitrogen loading to the estuary (the TMDL goal was a 30-percent reduction). Combined with additional point source reductions, these measures helped result in a 27-percent reduction in nitrogen levels in the Neuse River just upstream of the estuary
  • Blue Spring Creek ( Coffee County, Tennessee) – runoff from livestock operations and unrestricted grazing contributed high levels of sediment and nutrients to Blue Spring Creek. An education program and implementation of agricultural BMPs (including livestock fencing, cattle watering facilities, and waste management systems) helped to reduce the water quality problems, allowing the creek to be removed from the state’s 303(d) list
  • Cane Creek ( McMinn County, Tennessee) – Cane Creek was contaminated with pathogens due to urban (runoff/storm sewers) and agricultural (pasture grazing) sources. Pathogen inputs were reduced by stabilizing erosion-prone areas near AFOs and relocating the City of Etowah’s stormwater discharge point. As a result, the creek was removed from the state’s 303(d) list
  • Little Shoal Creek (south-central Tennessee) – Little Shoal Creek was impaired from high levels of silt coming from pasture grazing and other agricultural activities. Various pasture management practices were implemented to reduce erosion and pollutant transport to the creek, allowing the creek to be removed from the state’s 303(d) list
  • North Fork of the South Branch of the Potomac River (northeastern West Virginia) – this scenic trout stream was impaired by high levels of fecal coliform bacteria, primarily a result of runoff from beef and poultry farms. Over 85 percent of the farmers in the watershed worked to construct various BMPs at the farms, including constructing animal waste storage facilities, establishing riparian buffers, and others. The steam is no longer listed as impaired
  • Bass Lake ( Wisconsin)– livestock operations and other agricultural activities were determined to be the cause of high nutrient levels in Bass Lake and resulting fish kills. The Marinette County Land and Water Conservation District led an effort to reduce phosphorus levels in the lake through a combination of installing barnyard control practices and in-lake treatment techniques. TMDL targets were achieved by reducing the average phosphorus concentration from 490 µg/L down to 10 µg/L, and the lake will be removed from the state’s 303(d) list during the next listing cycle
  • Cascade Reservoir (central Idaho) – Cascade Reservoir was adversely affected by high levels of phosphorus resulting from a variety of nonpoint sources (84 percent of the load) such as agricultural activities and forestry operations, point sources (10 percent of the load) such as wastewater treatment plant and fish hatchery discharges, and poorly functioning septic tanks (6 percent of the load). Implementation of grazing BMPs and upgrading forest roads (and other projects) resulted in a 57-percent reduction of phosphorus levels in the reservoir. Agricultural BMPs implemented included grazing and irrigation management through livestock exclusion, fencing, tree and shrub planting, and wildlife habitat management
  • Nooksack River (Lummi Indian Nation, western Washington) – high levels of fecal coliform bacteria in the river from dairy and livestock operations, municipal wastewater treatment plants, and poorly operating septic systems contributed to high levels of bacteria in Portage Bay, forcing the closure of shellfish harvests. A dairy inspection program was implemented, and the requirement for dairy nutrient management plants resulted in a 63-percent reduction in fecal coliform bacteria in the bay and the reopening of some of the shellfish beds
  • Sauk River Chain of Lakes (central Minnesota) – the Sauk River Chain of Lakes is an interconnected systems of 14 bay-like lakes fed by the Sauk River. The waters are impaired by high levels of phosphorus and suspended solids due to row cropping and livestock operations, as well as discharges from private and public wastewater treatment systems. Implementation of agricultural BMPs and upgrades to septic systems and municipal wastewater treatment systems in the watershed reduces phosphorus loading by 48 percent. Agricultural improvements included the installation or improvement of 50-agricultural waste storage facilities, development of more than 40 Manure Management Plans, installation feedlot filter strips and retention basins, and enrollment of more than 5,000 acres into the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) Conservation Reserve Program. In addition, vegetative buffer strips were planted and shoreline areas restored to reduce erosion along riparian areas. In the early 1990s the Sauk River watershed was the first major watershed in Minnesota to implement a watershed-wide phosphorus discharge limit of 1.0 mg/L for wastewater treatment facilities. The requirement contributed substantially to improvements in the Sauk River and allowed water quality improvements from projects funded by the Clean Water Act Section 319 program to become more evident
  • Middle Fork Holston River (southwestern Virginia) – `agricultural and residential activities have led the river to become impaired by high levels of sediment and fecal coliform bacteria. Improvement measures focused on reducing discharges from private wastewater systems and excluding livestock from streams, and helped reduce bacteria levels in the creeks feeding the river. Farmers installed over 14 miles of stream fencing, implemented livestock grazing management systems (including watering sources and travel lanes), and improved 3,588 acres of pasture and 13 acres of riparian forest buffers along Hutton Creek. Approximately 70 percent of the agricultural producers in the watershed have been contacted about the goals of the watershed protection plan
  • Dungeness River (Jamestown S'Klallam Indian Tribe, Washington) – high levels of bacteria have resulted in shellfish bed closures and the inclusion of the river and a tributary creek on the state’s 303(d) list as impaired by fecal coliform contamination. Contributing sources included livestock management, failing septic systems, and pet wastes. The Clallam Conservation District worked directly with farm operators to develop conservation plans for individual farms. Agricultural BMPs implemented included fencing, riparian restoration, pasture management, and manure storage. Piping of irrigation ditches (in areas deemed high priority) and eliminating tailwaters in the extensive irrigation network in the watershed were also important components of the program. Education and outreach efforts included newsletters, workshops, and presentations to help inform livestock operators about the impacts of livestock management on water quality
  • Lower Yakima River (Washington) – erosion from irrigated agricultural lands was blamed for high levels of suspended solids, turbidity and the pesticide DDT in the Lower Yakima River, thus causing the river to be included on the state’s 303(d) list as impaired by these pollutants and a corresponding TMDL to be developed. A partnership of two irrigation districts in the watershed was formed, and they developed a Water Quality Policy (with support from local farmers and other landowners) that set specific on-farm turbidity targets. Over 200 site-specific plans have been prepared. The partnership worked closely with farmers who voluntarily converted a total of over 20,000 acres from water-intensive and erosive rill and furrow irrigation methods to more efficient sprinkler or drip systems. Other BMPs implemented to control erosion include the construction of settling ponds, filter strips, and the use of polyacrylamide - a substance that binds to soil while allowing water infiltration. These measures have resulted in meeting the interim TMDL goals for turbidity at three of four primary irrigation water return drains, and significant progress was made at other monitoring sites as well.