Ten years ago, the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) began a series of watershed assessment studies as part of the Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP). In this overview, a decade of research progress in 14 watersheds dominated by rain-fed croplands is reviewed to introduce a special section of this journal issue containing papers describing multiwatershed syntheses. The papers evaluate impacts of agricultural practices on soil quality, stream sediment sources, and the role of climate variability in watershed studies and conservation assessments at the watershed scale. The cross-watershed comparisons help enhance our understanding of emerging conservation technologies in terms of their readiness and suitability for wide-scale adoption. Research from ARS CEAP watershed assessments published during the past 10 years suggests encouraging (1) wider adoption of minimum disturbance technologies to reduce runoff risks associated with applying manure, nutrients, and agrichemicals; (2) adoption of winter cover crops; and (3) a renewed emphasis on riparian corridors to control loads of sediment, phosphorus (P), and other contaminants originating from within (and near) stream channels. The management of agricultural watersheds requires that watershed-scale data can be interpreted and applied in management at the farm scale, and that farm-scale information, including financial and management constraints, can be used to clarify watershed management opportunities and challenges. Substantial research needs remain, including social engagement of agricultural communities, use of multiple conservation practices to account for environmental tradeoffs, improved models to simulate the dynamics of nutrient retention and movement in watersheds, and understanding ecosystem responses to changes in water quality. Moreover, a long-term commitment to understand land use trends, water quality dynamics, climate impacts, and the real effectiveness of precision conservation approaches for improving water quality will help secure agriculture's capacity to provide food, water, and other ecosystem services vital to society.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Agronomy and Crop Science
- Water Science and Technology
- Soil Science
- Nature and Landscape Conservation