Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2013IN362B

Linking Cover Crops to Improved Stream Water Quality via Field-Scale Soil Sampling, in Shatto Ditch Watershed, IN

Institute: Indiana
Year Established: 2013 Start Date: 2013-03-01 End Date: 2015-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $15,000 Total Non-Federal Funds: $31,592

Principal Investigators: Jennifer Tank, Sheila Christopher

Abstract: Tile drainage systems are common in the Midwest, and facilitate the transfer of excess inorganic nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) from agricultural soils to adjacent streams. These non-point sources contribute to elevated nutrient loads in the Mississippi River drainage, which have been linked to widespread hypoxia and associated ecological and economic problems in the Gulf of Mexico. To mitigate these negative effects, we need a mechanistic understanding of controls on water quality in agricultural watersheds; more than 70 % of inorganic N and P delivered to the Gulf of Mexico has been attributed to the agricultural Midwest. In agricultural areas dominated by row-crops, the planting of cover crops after harvest offers a potential mechanism to reduce nutrient leaching from fields. Although previous research has examined how individual management practices affect nutrient leaching from individual fields or small stream reaches, less is known about the linkages between terrestrial and aquatic systems that influence water quality. We are using a demonstration project in the Shatto Ditch Watershed, located in the Tippecanoe River Basin in Kosciusko County, IN to determine whether the planting of cover crops in 50% of a small agricultural watershed will influence soil nutrient and organic matter content, tile drain nutrient leaching, and stream water quality. We will also determine if there are predictable relationships between soil nutrients and leaching to surface water through tile drains. This research will build on a recently-funded USDA Conservation Innovation Grant, which includes a strong partnership with the Natural Resource Conservation Service, the Kosciusko County Soil and Water Conservation District, The Nature Conservancy, and the University of Notre Dame. Dissemination of findings will include scientific presentations and peer-reviewed publications, as well as coordinated outreach activities (e.g., field days) aimed at farmers and stakeholders.