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Conservation ● November 2012 Wallaces Farmer

More than meets the eye

Key Points
■ Using GIS technology helps identify areas that are main sources of sediment. ■ This allows erosion control plans to be developed to treat worst areas first. ■ Also provides feedback on effectiveness of installed conservation practices. degree of slope to create a model specifically for the Rathbun Lake Watershed. The overall objective of the Protect Rathbun Lake Project is to slow the movement of water and the contaminants it carries into Rathbun Lake, so the purpose of the model is to identify which acres are most likely to lose soil during heavy rains.


ECHNOLOGY has found its way into nearly every aspect of daily life, and farming and conservation are no exception. While the human eye can identify when soil is leaving the farm field in areas where gullies cut through cropland, installing soil-saving practices everywhere a gully can be seen isn’t necessarily effective. Velvet Buckingham, environmental specialist with the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship’s division of soil conservation, says the highest amount of contaminants don’t always come from the visible areas such as the 3-foot deep gullies. “Sediment can be leaving the land at a higher rate on a sloping piece of land that doesn’t appear to be delivering as much as the gully, but in reality it is delivering more,” she says. Buckingham, who coordinates the Rathbun Land and Water Alliance’s Protect Rathbun Lake Project, says a more precise measure of potential soil loss is gained through the use of geographic information system, or GIS, technology. “You can see soil loss in the gullies; you can’t always see it on sloping hillsides. That is why GIS is so helpful,” she explains. GIS is a system designed to capture, store, manipulate, analyze, manage and present all types of geographical data. Tyler Jacobsen, cartographer and GIS specialist for Rathbun Regional Water Association incorporates the GIS with information such as soil type, land use and

for a particular study area that estimates the amount of soil runoff with current land use practices,” Jacobsen says. Marty Braster, environmental management specialist with the RRWA, says a watershed management plan developed by RLWA more than a decade ago has been effective in guiding the water quality protection activities of the Protect Rathbun Lake Project. Jacobsen completed the full assessment in December of 2001 and updates the plan on a yearly basis. “Each year, we add new field assessments and priority maps to areas of the watershed where we are focusing our water quality protection efforts,” he says.

USEFUL TOOL: Tyler Jacobsen uses GIS technology to identify priority areas where conservation practices will save the most soil and protect water quality. of sediment delivered annually to the lake. GIS-based models and water quality monitoring estimate the effectiveness of installed conservation practices in reducing the delivery of sediment and phosphorus to Rathbun Lake. In addition to providing feedback on the effectiveness of the installed practices, the results of the GIS analysis will be used to improve the application of this technology. Landowners apply at their local NRCS offices to install practices, but priority land is basically pre-approved. Since the urgency to protect the land has been determined, a higher percentage of costshare (75%) has been assigned to it. “The remaining 25% can be borrowed through the low interest rate loan program through the Iowa Water Quality Loan Fund.” Chester writes for RLWA.

How new technology helps Target erosion prone land
Jacobsen says there are several steps to identifying this priority land (both visual and computer generated) using a combination of aerial and satellite images for large maps and models. “In order to create the most accurate model, field level observation by project staff confirms current land use, which is matched to what the satellite images show. “Key components of the model are land use, which are field verified, and a GIS based version of the Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation. This combines land use data with various soil, rainfall and management factors on a watershed basis,” explains Jacobsen. “Existing conservation practices are also taken into consideration when creating the model. The results yield a map Due to the vast amount of land in the Rathbun Lake Watershed (354,000 acres), it was divided into 61 more manageable subwatersheds. In 2003, the project began working with the seven with the highest concentration of priority land. As conservation practices are completed and as funding allows, additional subwatersheds are identified. To date, landowners in 39 of the 61 subwatersheds have or are in the process of installing practices. Of the 354,000 acres, GIS technology has helped identify the principal source of sediment from the watershed — 58,675 acres of priority land that is used primarily for row crops. This priority land comprises just 17% of the Rathbun Lake Watershed, yet it is the source of 73T, or more than 173,000 tons, of the estimated 237,000 tons

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