Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2014IN372B

Linking improved soil health to water quality via the planting of cover crops in the Shatto Ditch Watershed, Kosciusko Co, IN.

Institute: Indiana
Year Established: 2014 Start Date: 2014-03-01 End Date: 2015-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $15,000 Total Non-Federal Funds: $34,042

Principal Investigators: Jennifer Tank, Sheila Christopher

Abstract: In the Midwestern US, tile drainage is a necessary management tool supporting agricultural production in modern farming systems. However, this practice facilitates the delivery of excess nutrients to downstream water bodies. These non-point sources contribute to elevated nutrients in Lake Erie and the Gulf of Mexico, which have been linked to algal blooms and subsequent widespread hypoxia causing widespread ecological and economic problems. To mitigate these negative effects, we need a mechanistic understanding of controls on water quality in agricultural watersheds. 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 at a watershed scale. Planting winter cover crops after fall harvest offers a potential mechanism to reduce nutrient leaching from agricultural fields dominated by row-crop agriculture. We are using a demonstration project in the Shatto Ditch Watershed, located in the Tippecanoe River Basin in Kosciusko County, IN to quantify how cover crops planted over 1800 acres (~75%) of this small agricultural watershed will influence the linkage between landscape practices and water quality. In a follow-up to our 2013 IWRRC grant, we are linking soil health (i.e., microbial community structure and function), soil nutrient and organic matter content, tile drain nutrient leaching, and associated stream water quality. Our objective is to link soil microbes, soil nutrients, and leaching to surface water through tile drains. This proposal builds on a current USDA Conservation Innovation Grant, and includes a strong partnership with the Natural Resource Conservation Service, the Kosciusko County Soil and Water Conservation District, The Nature Conservancy of Indiana, and the Environmental Change Initiative at University of Notre Dame. We are communicating our results through regular outreach activities aimed at farmers and stakeholders, scientific presentations, and peer-reviewed publications.