The research was conducted as part of the USDA's Conservation Effects Assessment Project. The objective of the project was to evaluate the environmental effects of land-use changes, with a focus on understanding how the spatial distribution throughout a watershed influences their effectiveness.The Soil and Water AssessmentTool (SWAT) water quality model was applied to the Squaw Creek watershed, which covers 4,730 ha (11,683 ac) of prime agriculture land in southern Iowa. The model was calibrated (2000 to 2004) and validated (1996 to 1999) for overall watershed hydrology and for streamflow and nitrate loadings at the watershed outlet on an annual and monthly basis. Four scenarios for land-use change were evaluated including one scenario consistent with recent land-use changes and three scenarios focused on land-use change on highly erodible land areas, upper basin areas, and floodplain areas. Results for the Squaw Creek watershed suggested that nitrate losses were sensitive to land-use change. If land-use patterns were restored to 1990 conditions, nitrate loads may be reduced 7% to 47% in the watershed and subbasins, whereas converting row crops to grass in highly erodible land, upper basin, and floodplain areas would reduce nitrate loads by 47%, 16%, and 8%, respectively. These SWAT model simulations can provide guidance on how to begin targeting land-use change for nitrate load reductions in agricultural watersheds.
Additional publication details
Targeting land-use change for nitratenitrogen load reductions in an agricultural watershed