AlternativeFutures for Agricultural Watersheds

Main Page









EPA Grant Number: R825335-01-0 

Title : Modeling effects of alternative landscape design and management on water quality and biodiversity in Midwest agricultural watersheds 

Investigators/Institution: Santelmann, M., K. Freemark, G. Matzke, S. Polasky, D. White (Oregon State University); J. Eilers (E & S Environmental Chemistry, Inc.); B. Danielson (Iowa State University); J. Nassauer (Univ. of Michigan); and S. Galatowitsch (University of Minnesota

Project Period: January 1997-December 1999 

Degradation in water quality and declines in native biodiversity in farmland demonstrate the need for multidisciplinary research linking land use and management practices to environmental and economic benefits and costs at the watershed level.  The research objective of this project is to integrate the following components into a watershed-level assessment of ecological and human resources for two watersheds in the Western Corn Belt Ecoregion of the United States:  

1. development of alternative future scenarios 
2. biodiversity modeling   
3. water quality modeling 
4. evaluation of farmer perceptions
5. comparison of economic return to farmers 

Alternative future scenarios were designed to represent three different sets of human land use and management priorities: first, a continuation of present trends, with land use reflecting market-driven farming practices and existing regulations or deregulation; second, an effort to improve water quality and preserve biodiversity using conventional methods, within the existing regulatory framework; third, incorporating a higher priority on restoration of native biodiversity coupled with efforts to improve water quality.  

Databases on current (1994) land cover, water quality, aquatic biodiversity, and avian biodiversity of these watersheds exist as a result of the US-EPA/USDA Midwest Agricultural Surface/subsurface Transports and Effects Research (MASTER) program. This research builds on the MASTER program, incorporating modeling approaches used elsewhere to evaluate risks to vertebrate biodiversity, water quality, and economic impacts.  For evaluating the effects of alternative wetland preservation/ restoration strategies, new heuristic models will be developed from existing databases in Iowa and southern Minnesota.
Alternative futures are being evaluated and compared in terms of relative impacts on
biodiversity, water quality, and economic profit using models developed or calibrated for the present landscape. Farmer interviews incorporate input from local farmers and decision-makers.  

This research explores how human attitudes and practical and economic constraints are translated into land-use and management decisions, and the spatial implications of these decisions at the watershed level. The significance of this research lies in its ability to inform land owners and policy-makers (for example, those crafting Farm Bill 2000) of effects of land-use and management choices on water resources, ecosystem function and human social systems in the Western Corn Belt Region.