Indicators of Nutrient Reduction Progress in Iowa

Iowa landscape

Title:  Integrating Social and Biophysical Indicators of Nutrient Reduction Progress in Iowa Watershed Projects

Location:  Boone River Watershed, Central Turkey River Watershed, Miller Creek Watershed, West Branch of the Floyd River Watershed, Cedar Creek Watershed, Walnut Creek Watershed, North Raccoon Watershed, and Ioway Creek Watershed

Time Period:  2019 -2021

Research Team:  Laurie Nowatzke, Lori Abendroth, J. Arbuckle, Jamie Benning, Zhengyuan Zhu, Giorgi Chighladze, Stephanie Bowden, Jiaming Qiu, and Suraj Upadhaya

Project Description:  In response to the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy—a statewide framework to reduce Iowa’s nitrogen and phosphorus losses by 45 percent—numerous state and federal agencies, universities, and private organizations conduct work across the state to promote agricultural soil and water conservation. There are several efforts in place to measure Iowa’s overall progress towards these goals. However, their geographic scale of analysis is statewide and they do not capture outcomes at finer spatial resolutions.

To overcome the challenges associated with geographic scale, this study explores the factors that impact nutrient reduction in watershed project areas which are a few hydrologic unit code-12 watersheds in size (i.e. generally, 20,000 to 150,000 acres). Because there has been limited empirical research on the factors that influence the progress or effectiveness of watershed projects that aim to reduce nutrient loss, this study aims to address the research question: On a watershed project scale, what are the primary indicators for predicting nutrient reduction effectiveness? These indicators may fall into a variety of operational categories, including but not limited to availability of funding and financial incentives, participation by diverse stakeholder groups, extent of outreach work among farmers and the wider community, and the extent of agricultural conservation practice use.

In a highly innovative approach, this project integrates disparate data from social and ecological sources. In agriculture, social and biophysical scientists alike have long called for integration of biophysical factors into research on farmer behavior and the potential impacts of that behavior. The proposed research integrates biophysical data (e.g. land use, water monitoring data) and social data (e.g. outreach efforts, farmer surveys) in novel social-ecological analyses, in order to contribute to a better understanding of the social and biophysical factors that influence land use and modeled nutrient reduction outcomes at the watershed level.


Funders:  Iowa Nutrient Research Center