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Home > Protecting Our Lands & Waters > Clean Water Fund > Additional Resources > Precision Conservation Initiative

Precision Conservation Initiative

"Precision conservation" means targeting conservation practices to places on the landscape where they will be most effective. It's about getting the right practices in the right place, at the right scale.

Precision conservation conference hosted by the Freshwater Society: March 29, 2012

Journal of Soil and Water Conservation Nov/Dec 2011 - Special Issue: Recent Advances in Precision Conservation

 People developing maps on computers as part of a training workshop
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture's 2010-2011 Precision Conservation initiative is disseminating sophisticated, time-saving digital terrain analysis techniques to help conservation professionals fund the right practices in the right places to improve water quality.

Digital terrain analysis is one of several conservation targeting tools recently developed by state agencies. The tools complement one another and work best at different scales. Agencies are working on integrating the tools into a package that can be used to assess watersheds and target conservation practices at multiple scales in a nested fashion.

Why is this work important?

Small portions of the agricultural landscape can have a disproportionately large impact on water quality. Identifying these areas is essential if clean water goals are going to be met. In a previous project, MDA and the University of Minnesota developed and tested high-resolution digital terrain analysis techniques to accurately identify certain types of critical source areas related to erosion and runoff in agricultural uplands near streams. (Learn more by visiting Targeting Best Management Practices to Critical Portions of the Landscape).

The previous project found that digital terrain analysis with high-resolution data can dramatically reduce the time and resources needed to identify critical source areas across a large area. Local water quality project leaders can use the results to better estimate treatment needs and costs, enhance applications for Clean Water Fund implementation dollars and improve project outcomes. Workshops and case studies are an effective way to start spreading the word about this highly effective approach.

Conservation professionals with the necessary geographic information systems (GIS) resources and proficiency can follow the step-by-step workshop manual below to conduct digital terrain analysis. To accurately interpret and communicate the results, however, requires experience and knowledge of the local landscape.

Terrain Analysis Workshops

In 2010, over 140 GIS-proficient conservation professionals attended one of seven Minnesota Department of Agriculture workshops around the state to learn when, why and how to use digital terrain analysis to target conservation practices for water quality projects.

The digital terrain analysis techniques imparted at the workshops are most effective when used with high-resolution Light Detection and Radar (LiDAR) digital elevation data. LiDAR data is already being used in much of Minnesota and is available for most of the state. 

Grass buffer strip in a soybean fieldLiDAR-Based Terrain Analysis for Clean Water Implementation Workshops:

Terrain Analysis Case Study

In 2012, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture will partner with one or more agencies and organizations, via a Request for Proposals (RFP), to develop one or more case studies illustrating the use of digital terrain analysis in real-world, locally led water quality projects. The case studies will help address questions such as:

  • How ready are local governments to conduct and interpret results of digital terrain analysis?
  • How does digital terrain analysis complement other targeting and priority-setting tools being used?
  • What types of maps and charts produced from digital terrain analysis will help communicate the scientific basis for targeting to landowners and funding committees?


MDA Contacts

Margaret Wagner
Clean Water Technical Unit Supervisor
Margaret.Wagner@state.mn.us ~ 651-201-6488