• optimization;
  • multiple objectives;
  • conservation practices;
  • social attitudes;
  • SWAT;
  • watershed restoration

[1] This paper focuses on investigating (a) how landowner tenure and attitudes of farming communities affect the preference of individual conservation practices in agricultural watersheds, (b) how spatial distribution of landowner tenure affects the spatial optimization of conservation practices on a watershed scale, and (c) how the different attitudes and preferences of stakeholders can modify the effectiveness of alternatives obtained via classic optimization approaches that do not include the influence of existing social attitudes in a watershed during the search process. Results show that for Eagle Creek Watershed in central Indiana, USA, the most optimal alternatives (i.e., highest benefits for minimum economic costs) are for a scenario when the watershed consists of landowners who operate as farmers on their own land. When a different land-tenure scenario was used for the watershed (e.g., share renters and cash renters), the optimized alternatives had similar nitrate reduction benefits and sediment reduction benefits, but at higher economic costs. Our experiments also demonstrated that social attitudes can lead to alteration of optimized alternatives found via typical optimization approaches. For example, when certain practices were rejected by landowner operators whose attitudes toward practices were driven by economic profits, removal of these practices from the optimized alternatives led to a setback of nitrates reduction by 2–50%, peak flow reductions by 11–98 %, and sediments reduction by 20–77%. In conclusion, this study reveals the potential loss in optimality of optimized alternatives possible, when socioeconomic data on farmer preferences and land tenure are not incorporated within watershed optimization investigations.