Wednesday, March 31, 2010

An Assessment of Water Quality Benefits on Our Environment

In agricultural production practices, knowledge of benefits and costs to water users is required for any complete assessment of resources. An understanding of cost benefits also help to estimate incentives for water quality improving changes. Estimating the economic effects of changes in water quality on water users is complicated by the lack of organizes markets for environmental quality. This blog helps improve our understanding of the benefits of water quality on our environments and society in the long run.

Various conservation practices like field and buffer practices affect the amount of soil and nutrients leaving the field. The amounts of soil and nutrients actually leaving the field or watershed are estimated rather than the amounts mobilized. These provide a better indicator of resource benefits that accrue in neighboring waters or adjoining lands.
There are no observed prices with which to measure value. Instead, the economic effects are measured through observed changes in the behavior of water users. The types of water uses affected by changes in water quality include recreation, commercial fisheries, navigation, municipal water treatment and use, and reservoirs. Different programs will affect these components of social welfare to different degrees. In what follows, we consider both the components of social welfare and the techniques by which they can be measured. For example, pesticide regulation may increase consumer surplus(say, by permitting larger fish populations) at the expense of produce surplus, while cost- sharing of best management practices could enhance both producer and consumer surpluses, excluding consideration of government budgets.
Conservation reserve program (CRP) is designed to safeguard the natural resources and protect millions of acres of topsoil from erosion. CRP protects groundwater and helps improve the condition of lakes, rivers, ponds, and streams by reducing water runoff and sedimentation. CRP is considered as a major contributor to increased wildlife populations.

The benefits of improved water quality due to CRP are not only limited to increased agricultural productivity from replenished soils, but also include the well-being that enhanced wildlife habitat. This benefit also has an indirect effect on improved air quality, and carbon sequestration. Accurate and meaningful measures of changes in water quality are necessary if the CRP is to provide considerable environmental benefits. These measures provide an indication of the benefits due to enhanced water quality and increased carbon sequestration. Additionally, the economic impacts on commodity markets, government payments, and rural economies are taken into consideration to estimate the benefits of enhanced water quality. Indicators such as total acres enrolled and field-level erosion reductions certainly contribute to an argument that enhanced water quality benefits are very real and potentially large. Yet, they offer limited insight in terms of just how large because they cannot account for the fact that some fields may be better than others in terms of wildlife habitat provision. The absence of reliable indicators that would better convey the full spectrum of benefits presents a dilemma when assessing effectiveness and attempting to make refinements of water qualities. Consideration of water resource benefits on a national scale has also been frustrated by limited data and understanding of modeling capabilities.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Relationship between Soil erosion and Offsite Damage and its effect on water quality

Materials generated from agricultural activities can be carried into waterways by runoff and thus can negatively affect the watershed health. Also, sediment washing off crop land can fill reservoirs, harm aquatic plant life and degrade recreational resources. Moreover, suspended sediment and nutrients generated from farming are considered as most damaging sources to the environment. The conservation reserve program is designed to assist operators of agricultural land in conserving and improving the soil and water resources of their ranch. It is therefore expected that CRP will generate significant level of offsite water quality benefits.
To investigate the water quality benefits, we first need to analyze the costs of soil erosion on its environment. The affect of soil erosion is widespread in surrounding communities. In this blog, I try to investigate the relationship between soil degradation and its effect on water quality and water uses.

Links between soil erosion and offsite damage:
To evaluate the offsite benefits of CRP, we must need to understand the links between soil erosion and damage.

1. Loss of soil and nutrients
Rainfall erosivity
Soil characteristics
Crop management
Conservation practices
2. Movement of pollutants from Field to waterways
Watershed vegetation
3. Physical and biological effects on water quality
Dissolved oxygen
Sediment load
Nutrient concentrations
Fish populations
Algae levels
4. Use of water resources
Commercial fishing
Water storage
Drinking supplies
Industrial supplies
5. Value changes
Consumer surplus
Treatment costs
Avoidance costs

The relationship between soil erosion and offsite damage is complex in nature. In Figure 1, the first link mainly discuss about soil loss which is considered to be a function of rainfall erosivity, soil characteristics, crop management, conservation practices. Nutrients and pesticides are also carried off a field along with soil.
The second link signifies the amounts of sediment and chemicals that reach a waterway depend on distance, slope, and watershed vegetation of the watershed.

Physical measures of water quality include dissolved oxygen, temperature, sediment load, nutrient concentrations, fish populations, algae levels are categorized under third link. It mainly highlights the agricultural pollutants discharge into waterways and water quality.

The use of water resources is affected by the change in water quality. Water resources can be used as recreation, commercial fishing, navigation, water storage, drinking supplies, industrial supplies and irrigation.
Economic relationship between water quality changes and human activity can be expressed as changes in recreation demand, profit among water using industries.
To gauge the importance of the effects of soil loss on water quality, one needs to measure the benefits and costs to society of programs and policies designed to improve environmental quality. These measures are properly expressed in terms of changes in social welfare, defined as net changes in consumer and producer surpluses. Benefits or costs of water quality changes are measured through changes in economic welfare, represented by consumers and producers surpluses. A number of methods exist for deriving these measures, including revealed preferences, contingent valuation and averting behavior for consumer surplus and changes in production costs for producer surplus. Each of these methods can be applied properly to measure water quality benefits if related data sets are available.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Environmental Effect of Agricultural Land Use in Lower Bad River Watershed

The landscape amenities offered by some types of agricultural land use furnish open spaces and visual prospects that are increasingly valued by growing suburban populations (American Farmland Trust, 1997). Because such a large proportion of the U.S. population resides near agricultural land and because agriculture significantly affects the environment, the way agricultural land is managed is likely to affect human health, recreational activities, and general well-being.
The challenge of designing an environmental targeting mechanism that brings the greatest benefits relative to costs is not merely to identify agricultural land uses causing the largest ecological impacts, but also to consider how important these impacts are to the American public. This blog will mainly demonstrate the environmental effect on land use pattern in lower Bad River watershed.

No direct relationship is evident between the instability in the subwatersheds and a particular land use. The entire subwatersheds of Bad River contained both cropland and rangeland. The cropland areas are usually within the uplands landform. The uplands are less susceptible to bank erosion compared to the breaks landform which would typically be rangeland. This is contrary to what would be expected if land uses are a primary factor affecting stability. Cropland generally would produce higher volume, higher intensity runoff events compared to rangeland. This is not to say that conversion from rangeland to cropland in modern times has had no effect on some of the watersheds; but an analysis of such a scenario is beyond the scope of this analysis.
In lower watershed, bank erosion is a predominant feature on unstable channels. The pattern of stream types indicates these unstable channels are the result of the watersheds being in an active down cutting phase which began at the mouth of the watersheds and has progressed upstream. Channel erosion is the largest source of sediment and is comprised of erosion from the following channel sources:
- Stream bank erosion along the main channel of the River
- Stream bank erosion from areas identified in the field inventory as having active bank erosion
- Geologic erosion from those channels identified during the field inventory

The erosion channel sources can be controlled by implementing the cost effective range management practices. Environmental targeting refers to the practice of directing program resources to lands where specific environmental goals are achieved for the least cost. The best cost versus sediment reduction benefits in the lower watersheds are primarily range management practices. However, the practices which increased vegetative cover and improved hydrologic condition showed the greatest benefit on channel types. In addition, these practices have the largest effect on sediment reduction to Lake Sharpe. The broad extent of management practices leads to widespread environmental effects on surface- and ground-water quality, air quality, fish and wildlife habitats, species diversity, and land characteristics. It can also generate ecosystem health and many outdoor activities, such as water-based recreation, hunting, and nature viewing. In practice, environmental targeting helped us calculate the benefits derived from environmental improvements in the lower watershed.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Factors responsible for land use changes in the Bad River Basin of South Dakota

Agricultural land values in South Dakota increased more than 10% each year from 2001 to 2008, including more than 20% in two years during this decade. South Dakota agricultural land values has been facing an annual increase from 4 to 10% from 1991 to 2001(Janssen and Pflueger). Cropland values increased at a higher rate than per-acre values for other agricultural land uses. Landowners are responding to higher cropland values by converting grassland into crop production. This blog mainly presents a brief overview on land pattern changes and factors behind its emergence by focusing on the available evidence.

In Lower Bad River Basin of South Dakota, land is being converted from native grass or rangeland into crop production. As long as market prices remain high, landowners in this region will continue to convert grasslands to crop production, especially to corn production. As the rate of land conversion accelerates, it will have significant environmental impacts and reduce the amount of land available for both wildlife habitat and grazing.

The availability of reliable and timely data to examine this land conversion is limited. The datasets and long implementation history of diverse conservation practices will lend itself explain that grassland conversion to cropland is being observed more frequently in past few years. Identified data sets each offering different time frames, collection techniques, and insights on this topic indicate a shift in land use in the region. There is a rich academic literature on the subject of land use change. According to these studies, land use change is driven by three primary forces: timber harvest, infrastructure development and agricultural expansion. In the study area, agricultural expansion is more responsible for land use changes compared to other two factors. In river basin, two mechanisms for land use change can be taken into consideration such as “direct” land use change, in which the land use change occurs as part of a specific supply chain and “indirect” land use change, in which market forces act to produce land use change.

Many forces that may be encouraging the conversion of land in bad river basin have intensified recently. The recent push for renewable energy, rising market prices for corn appear to be providing economic incentives to convert land. Conversion also may be facilitated by advances in biotechnology that have led to the availability of herbicide resistant crop varieties in the near future. In addition, the availability of federal farm commodity support programs is providing farmers with additional incentives to convert land from native grass into commodity crops, protecting them from full financial loss if a crop should fail. Moreover, rising corn prices and the emergence of national policies that encourage additional production of crops as a domestic source of energy have created additional incentives for landowners to convert to crop production.

References cited
Dr. Larry Janssen and Dr. Burton Pflueger., 2009. South Dakota Agricultural Land Market Trends 1991–2009, U.S. Department of Agriculture

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Importance of Bad River Basin Study

This blog will mainly discuss the importance of Bad River Basin Study which includes public concerns on adverse effect sediment deposition from the Bad River had on water quality, recreation, and fish and wildlife habitat in Lake Sharpe.
The primary beneficiaries of river basin study are the land owners of Lower Bad River basin of South Dakota. Also, society can be benefited through income generating activities from bad river watershed in the long run. Thus, if rate of sediment reduction can be maintained, it will certainly enhance the water quality and aesthetics of Lake Sharpe. Moreover, an increase in economic and environmental stability can be attained through improved conservation application. Also, it will help enhancing wildlife and fisheries habitat, improving recreational use and increasing productivity of depleted agricultural lands.

In addition, control of erosion and sediment load will help generate potential income and fish habitat in the long run. Research concerning land conservation may result in more production and new business development. Reduction of sediment will certainly help enhance the water quality and aesthetics of Lake Sharpe. Moreover, if conservation practices properly applied, it will thus increase economic and environmental stability and productivity of depleted agricultural lands. To control sedimentation, earlier project implemented numerous conservation practices in the Plum Creek Watershed such as: planned grazing systems, proper grazing use, erosion control structures, and animal waste systems. Also, Landowner and cooperators actively participated in this conversion practices due to its potential benefits. As a result, rate of erosion considerably reduced. Land may be used in commercial, institutional, recreational, residential, agricultural purposes. Conservation of rangeland to cropland in the study area will certainly help maintain environmental balance. From the earlier project, we found that due to heavy sediment load, the land use in Plum Creek Watershed was changed, because the major sediment comes from rangeland than that of cropland. Another cause for conversion of land use is due to runoff from rangeland that is considered the major contributor of sedimentation. The conversion of rangeland to cropland will certainly positively affect the economy of that community. Also, the fish habitat in Missouri river/Lake Sharpe can be improved that can generate income of the common people. Furthermore, flooding in the municipalities and surrounding areas can be controlled due to low rate of sedimentation. Thus, the local communities will get the benefit in the long run if the conservation practices are properly implemented and maintained.
A 40% reduction of total sediment delivery to the lake Sharpe from the Bad River Watershed has been achieved during the phase III of watershed projects. This data provide reasonable assurance regarding the impact of rangeland conservation practices in reducing the sediment loading in Bad River watershed. In addition, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and local watershed Conservation Districts continue supporting activities that enhance water quality in the watershed and encourage landowners to maintain management practices that have been most effective in achieving the goals of the Project. Further study on assessing the cost and benefits of conservation practices will certainly preserving land integrity for future ranchers.