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Eastern Geographic Science Center




Description of Current Projects

Reporting USDA agricultural conservation data for Chesapeake Bay farmland

Principal Investigator: Dr. W. Dean Hively, U.S. Geological Survey, Eastern Geographic Science Center

The Science Issue and Relevance
Understanding the impact of agricultural conservation practices on water quality is a key component of successful watershed management. In response to the 2009 Executive Order for Chesapeake Bay Protection and Restoration, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) took on the task of acquiring and assessing conservation implementation data for U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) cost-share programs and, as an impartial scientific third party, coordinating with the USDA and the Chesapeake Bay Program Partnership to improve the accuracy, completeness, and accessibility of farmland conservation datasets within the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Methodology for Addressing the Issue
The USGS developed and maintains a Conservation Cooperator Agreement with the USDA that allows us to access privacy-protected farm implementation data for agricultural conservation programs sponsored by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA). We have developed USDA-approved aggregation protocols to report the data to the public at watershed scales that are useful for tracking and understanding implementation while also protecting farmer privacy. We work with the USDA to acquire updated datasets in October of each year, and by November the data have been quality checked, duplication between NRCS and FSA datasets has been removed, and county-based aggregated datasets suitable for public release have been delivered to the six state jurisdictions in the Chesapeake Bay watershed (DE, MD, NY, PA, VA, WV) for their use in reporting the year's conservation progress to the Chesapeake Bay Program Partnership's "Annual Progress Review." The site-specific implementation data are also used by USGS scientists to investigate the impacts of agricultural conservation on water quality.

Future Steps
The data will be aggregated to watershed scale (HUC8, HUC12) and published, so that farmland conservation implementation can be linked to trends in water quality observed at stream monitoring locations. The dataset will be updated in October of each year, and communication with USDA will be maintained to adjust for ongoing changes in data structure, accuracy and completeness.

Key Words: Chesapeake Bay, agriculture, conservation practices, water quality


Contact Information:
W. Dean Hively, PhD
301-504-9031
whively@usgs.gov

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