Water Quality

Current Water Quality Research

Riparian Buffers, Water Quality and Carbon Sequestration

riparian buffer

PI: David Newburn (University of Maryland Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics)

Co-PIs: Erik Lichtenberg (UMD AGNR)

Duration: May 2023 to July 2024

Grant: $65,514

Description: Streamside buffers on farmland are a centerpiece of efforts to improve water quality and achieve Bay restoration goals, along with other benefits to wildlife habitat and cooler stream temperatures for brook trout and other aquatic life. The Bay states, including Maryland, set a goal of 70% tree canopy along streams by 2025. Yet only 58% of the streams in Maryland have tree canopy, according to a recent study conducted by the Hughes Center, Chesapeake Conservancy, and others. Incentive programs exist to encourage farmland owners to plant forest or grass buffers, including the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) and Maryland’s Conservation Buffer Initiative.

This study, led by Dr. David Newburn and Dr. Erik Lichtenberg at the University of Maryland (UMD), aims to analyze the incentive program features that are most effective in encouraging rural landowners in Maryland to plant streamside buffers. The UMD researchers conducted a survey of farmland owners throughout Maryland to collect farm-level information on current streamside buffers and landowners’ responsiveness to existing and proposed alternative incentive program designs. The alternative programs vary in terms of the contract length (5 to 15 years), upfront payments, and other features. The economic analysis of the farm-level likelihood of participation will be combined with site-specific estimates of nutrient and sediment reductions using the Chesapeake Bay Program Watershed model and other information. Additionally, the project plans to explore whether paying farmland owners for sequestering carbon in forest buffers as an extra revenue source would significantly increase landowner participation in existing incentive programs like CREP.

The project aims to improve the effectiveness of buffer incentive programs to achieve water quality improvements and provide insights to help reach types of farmland owners who have been under-represented in existing agricultural conservation programs. As a UMD Extension Specialist, Newburn plans to work with a wide range of agencies and resource professionals to perform policy-relevant analysis based on the goals of the stakeholders across the state and the Chesapeake Bay region.

(Photo Courtesy of the Chesapeake Bay Program)

Quantifying actual nutrient load reduction in drainage structures

PI: Dr. Hemendra Kumar (UMD AGNR)

Co-PIs: Dr. Ritesh Karki (UMD AGNR), Timothy Rosen (ShoreRivers), Ariana Muñoz (ShoreRivers), and Dr. Steve Lyon (The Ohio State University)

Duration: April 2024 to March 2026

Grant: $95,560

Description: Research in the Delmarva region focuses on implementing advanced technologies to address the critical issue of balancing food production and water quality in agriculture. The Chesapeake Bay clean-up effort underscores the urgency to restore the Bay and its contributing waters, highlighting the region's need for sustainable agricultural practices. Nutrient transport from agricultural fields poses a challenge to water quality. This research centers on implementing drainage water management (DWM), specifically exploring its potential to treat nutrient loss hot spots and hot moments (a particular moment in time when nutrient loss occurs) while empowering farmers as environmental stewards.

DWM involves installing water control structures at edge-of-field outlets to manage the water and nutrient flow, and reduce subsurface drainage flow and retain nutrient-rich water within the landscape, preventing its harmful effects on water bodies. These structures act as a tool to improve crops’ nutrient use efficiency, use of fertilizers, and manage in-field water levels sustainably. This research aims to quantify the impact of automated and manual DWM systems on water and nutrient flux from agricultural fields. Automated DWM utilizes sensor technologies to dynamically control water levels in the field’s drainage system based on real-time data. Manual DWM structures allow farmers to manually adjust the water levels in drainage pipes and control the flow of water and nutrients from the field. The researchers aim to assess the effectiveness of automated and manual DWM structures in reducing nutrient loads from fields in the Delmarva region.

“Our research on drainage water management not only benefits States’ agricultural community but also plays a crucial role in the larger effort to restore and preserve the health of Chesapeake Bay. By empowering farmers with smart agricultural technologies, we aim to reduce nutrient loading, safeguard water quality and contribute to a healthier environment for everyone in the Delmarva region.”