New Approach to Combine Types of Conservation Practices that Maximize Benefits to Freshwater Ecosystems

May 20, 2024

When it comes to conservation, there often is not a one-size-fits-all solution. In many cases, a combination of conservation practices provides the most benefit for the least cost. However, identifying the optimal set of projects when multiple types of conservation practices are available can be challenging. The Freshwater Trust (TFT) helps solve that challenge in a recent peer-reviewed paper published in the Journal of Hydrology.

TFT’s article, “Joint Prioritization of Best-Management-Practice Projects to Optimally Improve Agricultural-Drain-Outlet Water Quality,” describes its approach to prioritize a combination of agricultural irrigation-system-efficiency upgrades and sediment basin projects. Both conservation practices are intended to reduce nutrient and sediment runoff from agricultural fields into freshwater ecosystems. However, they each have unique implementation, maintenance, short- and long-term costs, and runoff reduction mechanisms. TFT provides a computationally efficient solution to combine disparate conservation practices into a single prioritization to identify the most cost-effective combinations of conservation projects. The approach allows TFT to efficiently identify cost-effective conservation solutions over large regions by utilizing large volumes of data and modeling outputs.

The video below illustrates the results of the approach applied to an agricultural basin along the Mid-Snake River in southwestern Idaho. As the video plays, cost-effective combinations of irrigation-system upgrades and sediment basins are highlighted in the map. The inset plot in the lower left indicates the achievable compromise between nutrient load reduction (in this case, phosphorus) and overall program cost for each solution.


The insights derived from this analysis can point to appropriate, cost-effective solutions that combine on-farm and off-farm management practices that maximize pollution-reduction programs.

This research was supported by the Idaho Power Company. TFT thanks Dr. Ali Saleh and Oscar Gallego at Texas Institute for Applied Environmental Research (TIAER) at Tarleton State University for their continued development and support on the Nutrient Tracking Tool.

#BasinScout    #irrigation    #irrigation systems    #Snake River