The Center recently wrapped up work funded by the Walton Family Foundation (WFF) to advance and inform the concept of a “common measure” for agricultural best management practices (BMPs) in the Mississippi River Basin. The common measure refers to a consistent method to credit water quality improvements from these BMPs and quantify their cumulative benefits as part of the multi-state strategy to eliminate hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico. EPA’s Gulf Hypoxia Action Plan calls for the 12 states within the Mississippi River basin to produce agricultural nutrient loss reduction strategies to reduce nutrients to the Gulf of Mexico by 45%, primarily through implementation of agricultural BMPs. While each state’s strategy must account for differences in local climate and agricultural practices, achieving general agreement on the pollutant removal associated with each BMP, and knowing when regional differences are the primary driver in BMP performance will help WFF and other multi-state funding programs to prioritize their limited restoration dollars.
One of the first goals of the project was to inform the Hypoxia Task Force about BMP tracking, pollutant removal efficiencies, and regional variations, directly as well as through affiliated organizations and sub-committees and state environmental agencies. The Center also evaluated and compared the Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota nutrient (loss) reduction strategies and initiated regional discussions on the nutrient reductions assigned to agricultural BMPs in these plans. This resulted in the development of a white paper summarizing the BMP efficiencies and per-acre costs from each state plan as well as preparation of a manuscript for a peer reviewed journal contrasting the strategies.
This work included creating and deploying a BMP tracking tool for use by recipients of implementation grants from the WFF to develop benchmarks of cost and expected nutrient reductions for key practices. The completed tool has been shared with staff of the Hypoxia Task Force. The Center also worked with 15 WFF grant recipients to help align their data collection activities with state tracking and other reporting measurements.
Another major goal of the project was to identify ways to improve or enhance the Gulf Hypoxia Action Plan. Products included a white paper identifying gaps in research related to agricultural BMPs, particularly practices where previous research has indicated wide variability in pollutant removal performance. The Center suggested potential research activities to provide clarification as well as the exploration of new technologies.
The Center also developed a white paper to investigate the water quality benefits of alternative cover crops (i.e., different than the grass-based cover crops highlighted in state reduction strategies). This included an evaluation of the potential advances in technology and management activities to enhance cover crop performance.
Together, these activities help to advance the use of a common measure to provide funders and regulators with the ability to quantify the benefits from funds spent on nutrient reduction in the Upper Mississippi River Basin. They also support improvements to the nutrient reduction strategies being used in the basin. The results may also help initiate discussions surrounding State nutrient trading programs using consistent trading currencies. For more information about this project, contact Bill Stack at firstname.lastname@example.org or Reid Christianson at email@example.com.