Despite reports earlier this week that the U.S. Geological Survey can't find consistent improvement in reducing nitrate levels in the Gulf of Mexico or rivers feeding it within the past 30 years, efforts continue to improve water quality. The biggest focus remains on designing and implementing practices that should reduce the amount of nitrates that leave crop fields and enter river systems.
Jane Hardisty, Indiana state conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, reports that two of the successful Conservation Innovation Grants awarded by USDA for 2011 will directly impact Indiana. A total of 52 grants representing $22.5 million invested by NRCS nationwide were announced.
In Indiana Purdue University's Crop, Soil and Environmental Sciences branch in the Purdue Agronomy Department will receive a $241,005 grant. Laura Bowling of the Purdue Agronomy Department will be in charge of the project funded by the grant.
The goal of this project is to demonstrate how something called bench wetland systems can improve nitrogen treatment and help prevent further entrance of this product into the waterway system. It builds off of a concept fairly new to Indiana, the two-stage ditch system. Some field days have been held on this system within the past year.
This project takes the concept one step further, and will address the potential to improve performance of these ditches even more by managing ditch benches as constructed wetland features. Scientists will be looking for nitrogen reduction, but also for how other parts of the habitat are affected, including what kind of habitat it creates for fish and other aquatic life.
The other grant that impacts Indiana is to a group called the Agricultural Drainage Management Coalition, or ADMC. Their award of $195,623 is to be used to develop and then demonstrate ways to retrofit existing conservation buffers to better prevent nutrients from entering waterways from field drainage systems.
The idea is to construct control structures in conjunction with grass buffers along ditches, creeks and rivers. Iowa and Illinois are also involved in this effort, along with the National Corn Growers, National Soybean growers, the Conservation Technology Information Center and the Nature Conservancy.When a new demonstration system was installed at the Southeastern Indiana Purdue Ag Center near Butlerville in 2010, water control structures were included in the tile layout. Part of the idea was to give the operator, in this case, Don Biehle, superintendent of SEPAC, more control over when water flowed from the tile into streams. The whole effort is aimed at shutting off peak flow to streams when the water coming out of tile lines might contain higher amounts of nitrogen in some form than it would at other times.