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Protecting Our Water

Guest Author
National Impact Database Writing Team

Water continues to be one of the most critical challenges facing agriculture and communities.  

Supported by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), Land-grant Universities are working to discover new ways to increase water efficiency, reduce water use and protect water quality. NIFA supports research, education and Extension efforts that provide basic knowledge and learning opportunities needed to address agricultural water quality and quantity issues through a variety of funding opportunities, including both competitive grants and capacity funding. 

Here are a few examples of NIFA-supported projects. 

  • The vast majority of nutrients and sediment washed into streams flowing into the Chesapeake Bay are picked up by deluges from severe storms that occur on relatively few days of the year. Pennsylvania researchers found that a small percentage of locations and events contribute the most to total annual pollution loads and stressed the importance of concentrating agricultural pollution mitigation efforts on “hot moments” — not just “hot spots” — across impaired watersheds. This critical shift in approach allows watershed planners and managers to develop low- and high-flow targets for nutrient and sediment loads specific to each watershed in the bay’s basin. This Pennsylvania State University project is supported by Hatch Multistate and Hatch Capacity funds. 
  • Researchers in Ohio are working to improve soil health and water quality through best agricultural management practices to prevent non-point-source nutrient runoff in agricultural watersheds. Results of modeling were used to develop plans to increase adoption of these practices for watersheds in a 20-county region in southwestern Ohio. This Central State University project is supported by Evans-Allen and USDA capacity funds.  
  • Toxic blue-green algae blooms of cyanobacteria in water bodies can pose significant environmental and public health risks. Collecting and analyzing single samples from these harmful algal blooms is time-consuming and can expose researchers to harmful toxins. To address these limitations and risks, New Hampshire researchers used a drone with a multispectral sensor to remotely monitor potential harmful algal blooms in lakes. The remote collection of data proved over 90% effective in accurately detecting harmful algal blooms and was significantly faster than traditional monitoring approaches, offering a safer alternative for environmental specialists and enabling a more immediate response to emerging blooms. The University of New Hampshire project is supported by McEntire-Stennis funds. 
  • Alabama Cooperative Extension hosted drug take-back events that yielded 1,575 pounds of medication that was correctly disposed of and kept out of the water system. The Alabama A&M University project is supported by 1890 Extension Capacity funds. 
  • Nevada’s population is growing significantly, particularly in urban regions. Pesticide residue in waterways – especially from products used for nonagricultural purposes underscores the need for education among landscape professionals, pesticide applicators and residents controlling pests in urban areas. Over the last decade, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension has developed integrated pest management education that has led to a substantial reduction in pesticide residues detected in urban sites across the state. This University of Nevada project is supported by USDA Extension Capacity funds. 
  • Kansas is dealing with ongoing drought conditions. More than 90% of homeowners who participated in a university training program said they are implementing the water conservation practices learned. The Kansas State University project is supported by Smith-Lever (3b&c) funds. 
  • Water quality in Long Island Sound impacts residents throughout the region. Researchers in Connecticut made existing data publicly available in an easy-to-use dashboard tool to help decision makers and improve nitrogen levels over time. The University of Connecticut project is supported by Hatch funds. 
  • Education efforts in Minnesota reached 2,000 adults and 250 youths. Now, community leaders, public health leaders and rural family practice physicians are better able to build awareness and spur action to mitigate water quality issues for private well owners in rural communities. And people throughout southern Minnesota and members of the White Earth Nation in northwestern Minnesota are able to plan and conduct well water screening clinics. This University of Minnesota project is supported by Smith-Lever (3b&c) funds. 
Farm Bill Priority Areas
Bioenergy, natural resources, and environment
U.S. States and Territories
New Hampshire

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