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Keywords:

  • watershed restoration;
  • nonpoint source pollution;
  • water quality;
  • nitrate;
  • atrazine

ABSTRACT: Land use and surface water data for nitrogen and pesticides (1995 to 1997) are reported for the Walnut Creek Watershed Monitoring Project, Jasper County Iowa. The Walnut Creek project was established in 1995 as a nonpoint source monitoring program in relation to watershed habitat restoration and agricultural management changes implemented at the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The monitoring project utilizes a paired-watershed approach (Walnut and Squaw creeks) as well as upstream/downstream comparisons on Walnut for analysis and tracking of trends. From 1992 to 1997, 13.4 percent of the watershed was converted from row crop to native prairie in the Walnut Creek watershed. Including another 6 percent of watershed farmed on a cash-rent basis, land use changes have been implemented on 19.4 percent of the watershed by the USFWS. Nitrogen and pesticide applications were reduced an estimated 18 percent and 28 percent in the watershed from land use changes.

Atrazine was detected most often in surface water with frequencies of detection ranging from 76–86 percent. No significant differences were noted in atrazine concentrations between Walnut and Squaw Creek. Nitrate-N concentrations measured in both watersheds were similar; both basins showed a similar pattern of detection and an overall reduction in nitrate-N concentrations from upstream to downstream monitoring sites. Water quality improvements are suggested by nitrate-N and chloride ratios less than one in the Walnut Creek watershed and low nitrate-N concentrations measured in the subbasin of Walnut Creek containing the greatest amount of land use changes. Atrazine and nitrate-N concentrations from the lower portion of the Walnut Creek watershed (including the prairie restoration area) may be decreasing in relation to the upstream untreated component of the watershed. The frequencies of pesticide detections and mean nitrate-N concentrations appear related to the percentage of row crop in the basins and subbasins.

Although some results are encouraging, definitive water quality improvements have not been observed during the first three years of monitoring. Possible reasons include: (1) more time is needed to adequately detect changes; (2) the size of the watershed is too large to detect improvements; (3) land use changes are not located in the area of the watershed where they would have greatest effect; or (4) water quality improvements have occurred but have been missed by the project monitoring design. Longer-term monitoring will allow better evaluation of the impact of restoration activities on water quality.