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Home > Protecting Our Lands & Waters > Clean Water Fund > Clean Water Research Program > Research Priorities > Clean Water Research Program Historic Research Priorities

Clean Water Research Program Research Priorities


2017

Clean Water Land & Legacy Amendment logoAddress research gaps identified in the 2012 Minnesota Agricultural Best Management Practice (BMP) Handbook for common agricultural drainage water management practices, including one or more of the following: the sediment, nitrogen and phosphorus reduction effectiveness, associated biogeochemical processes, resulting hydrologic impacts, or construction design criteria. This can include the continuation of currently funded projects to encourage long-term data assessment or linking multiple practices to determine the effectiveness of a treatment-train approach.

  • Evaluate and quantify, using field plots, the impact and effects of agricultural fertilizer BMPs and/or soil health principles on sub-surface drainage water quality, specifically the movement and loss of nitrates, phosphorus, and other contaminants.
  • Conduct an assessment of whether agricultural conservation practices (management, vegetative, and structural) remain and are effective after the expiration of their contract and design life expectations; although LiDAR data may be critical in the assessment, the proposal must also include an onsite field walkover survey of Minnesota farms coordinated with a partnering Soil and Water Conservation District or other local government unit. Evaluate whether the conservation practice is functioning, its age, and to what extent maintenance contributed to the functionality or life expectancy of the practice. Determine the reason(s) why or why not a practice has been maintained by the operator. Additional considerations may include:
    • Evaluation of the expected remaining effectiveness of each practice based on NRCS Standards and Specification and Operation and Maintenance plans.
    • Evaluation of the practicality and cost effectiveness for these practices to be modified to provide added, alternative, or longer-lasting water quality benefits.

2016

  • Demonstrate and evaluate the sediment, nitrogen and phosphorus reduction effectiveness, biogeochemical processes, hydrologic impacts, and construction design criteria of common agricultural drainage water management practices to address research gaps identified in the 2012 Minnesota Agricultural Best Management Practice (BMP) Handbook.
  • For tile drained agricultural fields in Minnesota, evaluate the water balance between corn and/or soybean systems with and without cover crops, and the effectiveness of the cover crops at reducing nitrogen and phosphorus surface and subsurface losses from these corn and/or soybean systems. Determine how cover crops affect the availability of water for the corn or soybean crops. Compare the collected field data to crop nutrient models to determine their accuracy at simulating water use and nutrient loss. Optional considerations would include upgrading existing model language to integrate observations.
  • Conduct an assessment of whether agricultural conservation practices (managerial, vegetative, and structural) remain and are effective after the expiration of their contract and design life expectations; assessment must include an onsite survey of Minnesota farms. Evaluate whether the conservation practice is functioning, its age, and to what extent maintenance contributed to the functionality or life expectancy of the practice. Determine the reason(s) why or why not a practice has been maintained. Additional considerations may include:
    • Evaluation of the expected remaining effectiveness of each practice.
    • Evaluation of the practicality and cost effectiveness for these practices to be modified to provide added, alternative, or longer-lasting water quality benefits.
  • Develop a comprehensive inventory summarizing cover crop and perennial vegetation research and demonstration data that has focused predominantly in Minnesota. Compile the information into a document similar to the 2012 Minnesota Agricultural BMP Handbook. At a minimum the inventory should provide:
    • A description of each crop species;
    • Soil characteristics and/or landscape limitations or suitability;
    • Practical aspects of establishment and management of the crop, including termination;
    • Nutrient crediting;
    • Effects (positive or negative) on primary crop yield;
    • Costs and other economic considerations;
    • Potential barriers to adoption;
    • Potential markets for the crop; and
    • Environmental benefits or consequences of crop establishment (e.g., carbon sequestration, water infiltration and nutrient leaching, runoff quality).

2015

  • Differentiate the water quality contributions and loss pathways of dissolved and sediment bound phosphorus from different agricultural sources on the landscape, including tile lines, and identify methods for mobilizing, redistributing or efficiently utilizing phosphorus reserves in agricultural soils while minimizing runoff losses.
  • Demonstrate and evaluate the nitrogen reduction effectiveness, biogeochemical processes, hydrologic impacts and construction design criteria of saturated buffers placed at the edge of fields to reduce subsurface agricultural drainage system nitrate contributions to receiving waters across multiple landscape settings (i.e. varying soils, topography).
  • Coordinate a collaborative, interdisciplinary working team to convene for the purpose of establishing a systematic approach for assessing whether the outcomes of perennial vegetation or cover crop water quality research and demonstration projects are likely to be agronomically and economically viable for Minnesota. The approach should devise a straightforward evaluation process to prioritize funding efforts and include a method to rate project proposals based on factors including, but not limited to, ease of practice implementation, crop termination challenges, likelihood of adoption, ability to address seasonality and climatic variations, potential farm management obstacles, potential market and profitability. The outcome should include an explanatory report that thoroughly justifies the developed assessment approach and should be finalized within a 12 month period. Because of conflict of interest concerns, the principle investigator(s) may not be able to apply for future MDA funding pertaining to perennial vegetation or cover crops; however, the investigator(s) is/are encouraged to engage researchers who are actively involved in related research as members of the working group.
  • Revise and update the 2012 MDA document titled “The Agricultural BMP Handbook for Minnesota” to include any new information or practices not previously incorporated into this comprehensive inventory of agricultural Best Management Practices (BMPs) which address current Minnesota water quality impairments including excess nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus), E. coli bacteria, herbicides, and turbidity. The updated inventory should contain the following:
    • Definition for each BMP;
    • Effectiveness estimates based on existing literature;
    • Costs and other economic considerations for each BMP;
    • Potential barriers to adoption of the BMP.
  • Conduct a comprehensive literature review summarizing what is currently known regarding the biological, chemical and physical factors that influence soil health; how these factors interact and are influenced by various agricultural management practices; the agronomic and environmental benefits that improved soil health can provide; and knowledge gaps in the understanding of how healthy soils can be created and maintained.

2014

Proposals should quantify agricultural conservation practice effectiveness related to nutrient (Nitrogen and Phosphorus) source reduction, off-site movement, and interception treatment in the state of Minnesota. Projects should focus on the water quality effects of both individual conservation practices and the cumulative effects of multiple conservation practices. Proposals must include a cost effectiveness component, as well as an education and outreach plan to benefit the people of Minnesota. Practices of special interest are:

  • Implementing cover crops into conventional cash grain cropping systems to capture nitrogen, reduce runoff and expand the window of crop water use:
    • Environmental interactions that impact the establishment of cover crops being grown in cash grain rotations.
    • Research into the agronomic feasibility of reduced and no-till planting of cash grain crops directly into terminated cover crops, and the subsequent management needed to profitably grow grain crops in high residue situations.
  • Differentiating the water quality impacts and loss pathways of dissolved and sediment bound phosphorus from different points on the landscape, and identifying management of nutrient applications, tillage, drainage water management, and conservation practices that minimize nutrient loss.
  • Effectiveness and feasibility of saturated buffers in reducing tile drainage nutrient loading to surface waters.
  • Effectiveness of variable rate/precision farming techniques in making significant reductions on non-point source pollution.
  • The effectiveness and feasibility of intercropping narrow strips of perennial crops directly over top of tile drainage lines to reduce tile flow and nitrate-N loss.

2013

Same as 2014.

2012

Quantify agricultural conservation practice effectiveness related to nutrient (Nitrogen and Phosphorus)
source reduction, off-site movement, and interception treatment in the state of Minnesota. Projects should focus on the water quality effects of both individual conservation practices and the cumulative effects of multiple conservation practices. Proposals should also include a cost effectiveness component. Studies may be supported by computer models, but should not exclusively rely on a modeling approach. Practices of special interest are:

  • The effectiveness and feasibility of saturated buffers in reducing tile drainage nutrient loading to surface waters.
  • The effectiveness of woodchip bioreactors located in pattern and or non-pattern tiled fields for reducing nutrient loading to surface waters. This work can be conducted on new or previously tiled sites.
  • Using commercially available optical sensors and or remote sensing to guide nutrient applications to agricultural fields, and evaluate the resulting impacts on water quality.
  • Using engineered features to treat surface water runoff on the agricultural landscape.

2011

Investigate the relationship between agricultural drainage systems (surface and subsurface) and impaired waters with the use of new or existing pilot projects. Studies may be supported by computer models but should not exclusively rely on a modeling approach. Questions of particular interest include:

  • How do drainage systems impact water quality and crop productivity at multiple scales from field to watershed/drainage system?
  • What are the water quality effects of conservation drainage practices such as: side inlet controls; alternative tile intakes; buffers at side inlet or tile intake locations; managed subsurface drainage; reactive barriers (woodchip bioreactors); storage basins; drainage ditch management; drainage system design; and other innovative drainage practices designed to help restore or protect water quality while meeting the needs of agricultural production?
  • What are the combined effects of multiple or suites of conservation drainage practices?
  • What is the cost effectiveness of conservation drainage practices, including installation, operation, and maintenance; impacts on crop and livestock productivity; and barriers to and incentives/resources for adoption?

Develop, improve, and evaluate practices on crop and livestock operations that address water quality impairments (excess nutrients, fecal coliform bacteria/E. coli, herbicides, turbidity) in agricultural watersheds, including practices related to nutrient and pesticide management, manure management, and runoff and erosion control. Studies may be supported by computer models but should not exclusively rely on a modeling approach. Projects must address the cost effectiveness of practices, including installation, operation, and maintenance; impacts on crop and livestock productivity; and barriers to and incentives/resources for adoption. Questions of particular interest include:

  • What are the water quality effects at multiple scales, from field to large watershed, and relationships between scales?
  • What are the combined water quality effects of multiple practices or suites of practices?

 2010

Conduct a comprehensive inventory of agricultural Best Management Practices (BMPs) that address current Minnesota water quality impairments including excess nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus), E. coli bacteria, herbicides, and turbidity. The inventory should address the following factors:

  • Definition for each BMP;
  • Effectiveness estimates based on existing literature;
  • Costs and other economic considerations for each BMP;
  • Potential barriers to adoption of the BMP.

Investigate the relationship between artificial drainage systems (surface and subsurface) and surface water quality and hydrology with the use of new or existing pilot projects. Studies may be supported by computer models but should not exclusively rely on a modeling approach. Projects should address the following questions:

  • What are the impacts at different scales ranging from field to large watershed?
  • What are the integrated effects of multiple agricultural practices such as tillage, nutrient management, cover crops, and drainage practices and designs within a watershed?
  • How do artificial drainage systems impact water quality, hydrology, and agricultural production?
  • What are the installation and operational costs associated with artificial drainage systems?

Develop a process for identifying Priority Management Zones (PMZs) related to water quality impairments within an 8-digit HUC that can be translated to other regions throughout the state. Non-point source pollution is diffuse in nature, but some areas contribute significantly more pollutant per unit area than others. Areas that contribute disproportionate pollutant loads are often referred to as Priority Management Zones (PMZs) or Critical Source Areas (CSAs) and are good targets for on the ground conservation practices. Implementing selected practices in identified PMZs can be more cost-effective than implementing the same practices elsewhere, because more pollutants are prevented from impacting water quality. Identifying PMZs in non-impaired areas will help in the development of protection plans, while identifying PMZs in impaired areas will aid the development of restoration plans (e.g., TMDL implementation plans). The PMZs should be characterized by three areas of emphasis: source reduction; interception treatment; an in-channel assimilative capacity. The process should utilize a combination of the following tools/data sources:

  • Best Professional Judgment: Provided by a group of local natural resource professionals such as Soil and Water District staff, hydrologists, agronomists, and landowners;
  • GIS Assessment: Inventory and evaluation of applicable mapping layers such as land use, topography, geology, and soils;
  • Modeling: Supported by other data sources including GIS layers and observed monitoring data to aid in the identification of PMZs;
  • Stressor Identification Data Sets: These are data sets that are related to aquatic life including: hydrology; water quality; geomorphology; and energy pathways/connectivity to surface water bodies;
  • Field Assessments: Collection of field data that may not previously exist related to the stressor of interest such as information on geomorphology, land use, and existing management practices.

2009

Investigate the relationship between tile drainage and surface water quality and hydrology. Develop, improve, and evaluate best management practices (BMPs) that address current impairments in agricultural watersheds (excess nutrients, fecal coliform, herbicides, turbidity).

Characterize natural background levels of pollutants related to current surface water impairments with an emphasis on phosphorus within the framework of the current Clean Water Legacy Act definition (Minnesota Statute 114D.15 Subd. 10), historical trends, and contributions from legacy loads.