Conesus Lake Watershed Project - SUNY Brockport, USDA

A project sponsored by the Cooperative State Research Education and Extension Service of the US Deparment of Agriculture



Experimental Manipulation of Entire Watersheds through Best Management Practices (BMPs):
Nutrient Fluxes, Fate, Transport and Biotic Responses

Joseph Makarewicz, Project Director, State University of New York at Brockport (Lead Institution)
Isidro Bosch - Co-Principal Investigator, SUNY Geneseo

Rochester Institute of Technology
Cornell Cooperative Extension
Livingston County Soil and Water Conservation District
Livingston County Planning Department
Livingston County Farm Service Agency

Mitigation of soil and nutrient loss from watersheds in agriculture in the Finger Lakes Region of New York State and, in general, within the country continues to be a major issue. Because of a sense of stewardship, the demonstrated loss of nutrients and soil from their land and the effects this may be having on downstream environments, the local agricultural agencies, with cooperation and participation of local farmers, founded the "Conesus Lake Watershed Group" (CLWG) to focus attention on watershed issues important to farmers and to coordinate and foster collaboration between academic researchers, governing bodies, and the agricultural community. This multi- dimensional project represents an integrated approach of academics, extension and farming interests to conduct hypothesis-based research at the watershed level that will test the ecosystem impact of Best Management Practices on mitigation of non-point sources of nutrient and soil loss. Small experimental subwatersheds (33 to 325 ha) were chosen because they are predominantly in agriculture (over 70%) and are farmed by only one or two landowners. These circumstances ensure that any effects on downstream systems (stream, stream mouths and nearshore of the lake) will be a result of implemented BMPs; that is, results will not be confounded by other land use practices often observed in large watershed approaches. The goal of the project is to demonstrate, through the experimental watershed approach, that implementation of BMPs in agriculturally dominated watersheds will preserve soil and reduce nutrient loss from a series of subwatersheds. A second goal is to evaluate the impact of instituted BMPs by considering the impacts on the downstream lake community on the watershed scale. A third goal is evaluate fate and transport of nutrients over space and time. Specifically, we hypothesize not only reductions in nutrient and soil concentrations and loading but also a resultant decrease in metaphyton and coliform bacteria populations at stream mouths and, with time, a reduction in macrophyte communities. We intend to demonstrate with the Finger Lakes farming community, the utility and effectiveness of the implemented BMPs allowing regional policy makers and managers to develop optimal strategies for improving land usage in watersheds while significantly improving water quality and decreasing abundance of nuisance plant species in downstream ecosystems.

As such, this project is a logical step in the implementation of the Conesus Lake Watershed Management Plan and a mechanism for the farming community to be proactive in watershed issues through education, implementation of BMPs. and by its traditional stewardship of the land it farms. Ultimately, the proposed research expands our basic understanding of the effects of practices to control non-point source pollution while contributing toward the goal of improving water quality of downstream systems. The diverse nature (academics, agriculture agencies, extension, planners) of the Conesus Lake Watershed Group allows for dissemination of information to a wide audience at the local, regional and national level through a WEB page, a seminar series, Cornell Cooperative Extension, and the scientific literature.


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