Effectiveness of best management practices in improving water quality in a pasture-dominated watershed
Journal of Soil and Water Conservation , 65 , 2010

Chaubey, I., Chiang, L., Gitau, M.W., Mohamed, S.

The nonpoint source pollution problem can be controlled by implementing various best management practices (BMPs) in the watershed. However, before such practices are adopted, their effectiveness at various spatial and temporal scales must be evaluated. The objective of this research was to evaluate a suite of BMPs in a pasture-dominated watershed in their effectiveness at controlling nutrient losses. A total of 171 different BMP combinations incorporating grazing and pasture management, riparian and buffer zones, and poultry litter applications were evaluated for their effectiveness using the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) model. The SWAT model was parameterized using detailed farm and watershed-scale data. The stochasticity in weather was captured by generating 250 various possible weather realizations for a 25-year period, using measured historical climate data for the watershed. Model results indicated that losses of both total nitrogen, mineral phosphorus, and total phosphorus increased with an increase in litter application rates. For the same application rates, greatest losses were predicted for fall application timings compared to spring and summer applications. Overgrazing resulted in greater nutrient losses compared to baseline conditions for all application rates, timings, and litter characteristics, indicating that overgrazing of pasture areas must be avoided if any improvement in the water quality is to be expected. Variability in weather conditions significantly affected BMP performance; under certain weather conditions, an increase in pollutant losses can be greater than reductions due to BMPs implemented in the watershed. Buffer strips and grazing management were two most important BMPs affecting the losses of total nitrogen and total phosphorus from the pasture areas.