Agricultural conservation practices in Iowa watersheds: comparing actual implementation with practice potential

  • Trevor J. RundhaugEmail author
  • Greg R. Geimer
  • Chad W. Drake
  • Antonio Arenas Amado
  • A. Allen Bradley
  • Calvin F. Wolter
  • Larry J. Weber


As part of the solution to reduce the size of the Gulf of Mexico hypoxia, the state of Iowa has created the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy (INRS) to reduce total nitrogen and phosphorous loads by 45% by 2035. A major component of the strategy is implementation of conservation practices to reduce loads of non-point source pollution from agricultural lands. To identify potential locations for conservation practices in Iowa watersheds, the Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework (ACPF) is being used. In addition, the location of existing implemented practices are being identified by the Iowa Best Management Practices Mapping Project (IBMP). From these two products, a methodology was developed to compare the differences between actual implementation and practice placement potential. The compared conservation practices are grassed waterways, wetlands and ponds, and water and sediment control basins (WASCOBs). The comparison is performed in three hydrologic unit code 12 (HUC-12) watersheds in three distinct landform regions of Iowa. Analyses show that grassed waterways are widely implemented (at least 78% of the potential) in the three watersheds. For ponds and wetlands, the majority of the existing structures were smaller than the ACPF potential wetlands (average drainage area between 7 and 20 ha compared to between 89 and 109 ha). WASCOB implementation was only present in one watershed, most likely due to regional differences in conservation preferences. Coupled together the IBMP and ACPF will be important for stakeholders of watersheds in planning future investment and advancing towards a more systems-based approach to conservation.


Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework Iowa Best Management Mapping Project Conservation practices Landform regions Precision conservation 


Funding information

This work was partially funded by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.


  1. Ayalew, T. B., Krajewski, W. F., Mantilla, R., Wright, D. B., & Small, S. J. (2017). Effect of spatially distributed small dams on flood frequency: Insights from the Soap Creek Watershed. Journal of Hydrologic Engineering, 22(7), 04017011. Scholar
  2. Burkart, M. R., Oberle, S. L., Hewitt, M. J., & Pickus, J. (1994). A framework for regional agroecosystems characterization using the national resources inventory. Journal of Environmental Quality, 23, 866–874.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Dosskey, M. G., Neelakantan, S., Mueller, T. G., Kellerman, T., Helmers, M. J., & Rienzi, E. (2015). AgBufferBuilder: A geographic information system (GIS) tool for precision design and performance assessment of filter strips. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, 70(4), 209–217. Scholar
  4. Gallant, A. L., Sadinski, W., Roth, M. F., & Rewa, C. A. (2011). Changes in historical Iowa land cover as context for assessing the environmental benefits of current and future conservation efforts on agricultural lands. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, 66(3), 67A–77A. Scholar
  5. Goolsby, D. A., Battaglin, W. A., Lawrence, G. B., Artz, R. S., Aulenbach, B. T., Hooper, R. P., et al. (1999). Flux and sources of nutrients in the Mississippi-Atchafalaya River Basin: Topic 3 report for the integrated assessment on hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico. (Vol. Decision Analysis Series no 17). Silver Spirng (MD): NOAA Coastal Ocean Office.Google Scholar
  6. Environmental Working Group. 2017. Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) in Iowa, EWG, Accessed Oct. 1. Accessed Oct. 1 2017.
  7. Hatfield, J. L., McMullen, L. D., & Jones, C. S. (2009). Nitrate-nitrogen patterns in the Raccoon River Basin related to agricultural practices. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, 64(3), 190–199. Scholar
  8. Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy Science Team (2017). Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy A science and technology-based framework to assess and reduce nutrients to Iowa waters and the Gulf of Mexico. Ames, IA: Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Iowa State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.Google Scholar
  9. ISU GIS Facility. 2016. Iowa BMP Mapping Project: Download Iowa Conservation Practices by HUC-12. Accessed Oct. 1 2017.
  10. James, D. E. and Gelder, B. K. (2017). The Iowa HUC12 S-Library: Elevation rasters at 2-meter resolution. Accessed October 1, 2017.
  11. Kremen, C., Williams, N. M., Aizen, M. A., Gemmill-Herren, B., LeBuhn, G., Minckley, R., Packer, L., Potts, S. G., Roulston, T.'., Steffan-Dewenter, I., Vázquez, D. P., Winfree, R., Adams, L., Crone, E. E., Greenleaf, S. S., Keitt, T. H., Klein, A. M., Regetz, J., & Ricketts, T. H. (2007). Pollination and other ecosystem services produced by mobile organisms: A conceptual framework for the effects of land-use change. Ecology Letters, 10(4), 299–314. Scholar
  12. Lawler, J. J., Lewis, D. J., Nelson, E., Plantinga, A. J., Polasky, S., Whitney, J. C., et al. (2014). Projected land-use change impacts on ecosystem services in the United States. PNAS, 111(20), 7492–7497. Scholar
  13. Li, R., Tang, Z., Li, X., & Winter, J. (2013). Drainage structure datasets and effects on LiDAR-derived surface flow modeling. ISPRS International Journal of Geo-Information, 2(4), 1136–1152. Scholar
  14. Mead, P., and A. Diaz. 2013. NLCD_RCN_TABLE. NRCS GIS Engineering Tools. USDA NRCS.
  15. Mielke, L. N. (1985). Performance of water and sediment control basins in northeastern Nebraska. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, 40(6), 4.Google Scholar
  16. Musgrave, G. W., & Norton, R. A. (1937). Soil and water conservation investigations at the Soil Conservation Experiment Station Missouri Valley Loess Region Clarinda, Iowa In U. S. D. o. Agriculture (Ed.), (pp. 1–182). Washington D.C.Google Scholar
  17. 2010 NAIP Color-infra-red aerial photography of Iowa (2010a). Iowa State University GIS Facility.Google Scholar
  18. 2010 NAIP Four-band aerial photography (2010b). Iowa State University GIS Facility.Google Scholar
  19. Precipitation Frequency for Midwestern states, USA - NOAA Atlas 14 (2013). NOAA/NWS/Office of Hydrologic Development Hydrometerological Design Studies Center. Accessed Oct. 1, 2017.
  20. Description of gridded soil survey geographic (gSSURGO) database. (2017). USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. Accessed October 1, 2017.
  21. Pavelis, G. A., Helms, D., & Stalcup, S. (2011). Soil and water conservation expenditures by USDA agencies, 1935-2010. In U. N. E. S. Division (Ed.), (pp. 1–24). Washington D.C.Google Scholar
  22. Porter, S. A., Tomer, M. D., James, D. E., & Boomer, K. M. B. (2017). Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework ArcGIS toolbox user’s manual version 2.2. (pp. 1-82): National Laboratory for agriculture & the environment, USDA.Google Scholar
  23. Prior, J. C. (1976). A Regional Guide to Iowa Landforms (educational series 3). Iowa City, IA: The State of Iowa.Google Scholar
  24. Rao, M., Fan, G., Thomas, J., Cherian, G., Chudiwale, V., & Awawdeh, M. (2007). A web-based GIS Decision Support System for managing and planning USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Environmental Modelling & Software, 22(9), 1270–1280. Scholar
  25. Raymond, P. A., Oh, N.-H., Turner, R. E., & Broussard, W. (2008). Anthropogenically enhanced fluxes of water and carbon from the Mississippi River. Nature, 451(7177), 449–452. Scholar
  26. Schilling, K. E. (2000). Patterns of discharge and suspended sediment transport in the Walnut and Squaw Creek Watersheds, Jasper County, Iowa:Water years 1996-1998. In G. S. Bureau (Ed.), Technical Information Series 412 (pp. 1-45): Iowa Department of Natural Resources.Google Scholar
  27. Schilling, K. E., & Spooner, J. (2006). Effects of watershed-scale land use change on stream nitrate concentrations. Journal of Environmental Quality, 35(6), 2132–2145. Scholar
  28. Seaber, P. R., Kapinos, F. P., & Knapp, G. L., (1987). Hydrologic Unit Maps: U.S. Geological Survey Water- Supply Paper 2294, 63 p.
  29. Strahler, A. N. (1957). Quantitative analysis of watershed geomorphology. Transactions, American Geophysical Union, 38(6), 913–920.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Three Meter Digital Elevation Model of Iowa, Derived from LiDAR (2007). Iowa DNR.Google Scholar
  31. Tomer, M. D., Crumpton, W. G., Bingner, R. L., Kostel, J. A., & James, D. E. (2013a). Estimating nitrate load reductions from placing constructed wetlands in a HUC-12 watershed using LiDAR data. Ecological Engineering, 56, 69–78. Scholar
  32. Tomer, M. D., James, D. E., & Sandoval-Green, C. M. J. (2017). Agricultural conservation planning framework: 3. land use and field boundary database development and structure. Journal of Environmental Quality, 46(3), 676–686. Scholar
  33. Tomer, M. D., Moorman, T. B., James, D. E., Hadish, G., & Rossi, C. G. (2008). Assessment of the Iowa River’s South Fork Watershed: Part 2. Conservation practices. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, 63(6), 371–379. Scholar
  34. Tomer, M. D., Porter, S. A., James, D. E., Boomer, K. M. B., Kostel, J. A., & McLellan, E. (2013b). Combining precision conservation technologies into a flexible framework to facilitate agricultural watershed planning. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, 68(5), 113A–120A. Scholar
  35. Trimble, S. W., & Lund, S. W. (1982). Soil conservation and the reduction of erosion and sedimentation in the Coon Creek Basin, Wiscosnin. In Interior (Ed.), (pp. 40).Google Scholar
  36. USDA-NASS. (2015) Cropland data layer: Metadata. USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service.
  37. USDA-NRCS, IA. (2015). Grassed Waterways Code 412. (pp. 1–5).
  38. USGS. (2011). National Land Cover Database. Multi-Resolution Land Characteristics Consortium (MRLC). U. S. Geological Survey.
  39. Vorhauer, C. F., & Hamlett, J. M. (1996). GIS: A tool for siting farm ponds. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, 51(5), 434–438.Google Scholar
  40. Weber, L. J., Muste, M., Bradley, A. A., Amado, A. A., Demir, I., Drake, C. W., Krajewski, W. F., Loeser, T. J., Politano, M. S., Shea, B. R., & Thomas, N. W. (2017). The Iowa Watersheds Project: Iowa’s prototype for engaging communities and professionals in watershed hazard mitigation. International Journal of River Basin Management, 16, 1–14. Scholar
  41. Zhang, Y.-K., & Schilling, K. E. (2006). Increasing streamflow and baseflow in Mississippi River since the 1940s: Effect of land use change. Journal of Hydrology, 324(1–4), 412–422. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Trevor J. Rundhaug
    • 1
    Email author
  • Greg R. Geimer
    • 1
  • Chad W. Drake
    • 1
  • Antonio Arenas Amado
    • 1
  • A. Allen Bradley
    • 1
  • Calvin F. Wolter
    • 2
  • Larry J. Weber
    • 1
  1. 1.College of Engineering, IIHR-Hydroscience & EngineeringUniversity of IowaIowa CityUSA
  2. 2.Iowa Department of Natural ResourcesThe University of IowaIowa CityUSA

Personalised recommendations