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There are many practical applications of ecology in conservation biology, wetland management, natural resource management.
Water Conservation Techniques
BIORETENTION CELLDescription Bioretention cells are bowl like gardens that capture and temporarily impound runoff. Captured runoff and pollutants are filtered out as water percolates downward. Bioretention cells have an engineered subgrade that features a 1 foot layer of rock with a perforated tile about 3.5 below the surface, which is typically covered by a specified soil mix that allows water to readily move down through the system. Benefits Bioretention cells filter pollutants out of dirty runoff. Biocells capture sediment, heavy metals, hydrocarbons, floatable litter and other pollutants in stormwater runoff. Biocells filter, cool and slowly release dirty runoff that otherwise would go directly to receiving streams without any treatment. Biocells and their engineered subgrades are used where soils are altered, compacted, or have other characteristics that don't allow water to percolate down through the soil profile.
BIOSWALE Description Bioswales are vegetated drainage ways that provide an alternative to buried storm sewer pipes. Bioswales may be cheaper to install and provide water quality benefits that storm sewers can't provide. Bioswales are designed to infiltrate runoff of from frequent, small rains and convey large runoff events to receiving streams. A bioswale has a perforated subdrain, a sandy soil mix, and strategically spaced berms to facilitate infiltration of small runoff events. The berms - usually about 1 foot in height - do not impede flows of large runoff events. Benefits Bioswales will infiltrate about 80-85% of runoff events, which will significantly reduce the delivery of pollutants to receiving streams. Bioswales will also reduce the flashiness of urban stream flows, which will reduce stream corridor erosion - a major source of sediment in Iowa surface waters. Bioswales convey runoff from large storms in a non-erosive manner and are competitive in cost with expensive large storm sewer installation.
COVER CROPSDescription Cover crops reduce soil erosion by improving soil structure and permeability in addition to providing ground cover as a physical barrier between raindrops and the soil surface. Cover crops also scavenge residual nitrogen left in the soil profile. Cover crops can be seeded in the fall using a variety of methods including drilling after crop harvest, broadcasting after crop harvest, or aerially broadcasting before harvest. Benefits The research summary indicated an average 31% reduction in nitrate (N) concentration with use of a rye cover crop and a 28% reduction with an oat cover crop. Planting a late summer or early fall seeded cover crop can reduce phosphate (P) loss by about 29%.
DRAINWATER MANAGEMENTDescription Water management is the control and movement of water resources to minimize damage to life and property and to maximize efficient beneficial use. Good water management of dams and levees reduces the risk of harm due to flooding. Irrigation water management systems make the most efficient use of limited water supplies for agriculture. Drainage management involves water budgeting and analysis of surface and sub-surface drainage systems. Sometimes water management involves changing practices, such as groundwater withdrawal rates, or allocation of water to different purposes. Benefits More production, less risk, and cleaner water.
EXTENDED CROP ROTATIONDescription An extended rotation is a farming practice that includes a primary row crop of corn, and at least two years of a different crop that typically is a forage legume, such as alfalfa. In practice, the specific rotation and crop combinations are extensive and may not be consistent on a given field. For Iowa, an extended rotation can be defined as a rotation of corn, soybean, and two to three years of alfalfa or legume-grass mixtures managed for hay harvest. Benefits Extended rotations reduce the application and the loss of both nitrate-N and P. Due to growing nitrogen fixing legumes three years in a row, very little, if any nitrogen needs to be applied in the subsequent corn year. Research indicates an average 42% reduction in nitrate-N concentration in tile drainage water, with corn yields approximately 10% higher. The P loss reduction with alfalfa or a legume-grass mixture in the rotation is associated with reduced soil erosion because of greater soil cover, plus higher P removal with hay than with corn grain or soybean seed.
GRASSED WATERWAYDescription Grassed waterways are shaped constructed channels that are seeded to grass or other suitable vegetation to convey water to a stable outlet at a non-erosive velocity. A structure is often installed at the base of the waterway to stabilize the waterway and prevent a new gully from forming. Benefits
- Grass cover protects the waterway from gully erosion and traps sediment in runoff water.
- Vegetation can filter and absorb some of the chemicals and nutrients in runoff water.
- Vegetation provides cover for small birds and animals.
LAND RETIREMENTDescription The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is a long-term (10-15 year) perennial vegetation program intended to reduce soil erosion and protect resources. Benefits The established vegetation is a near "natural" system. These systems are not fertilized and will, over time, substantially limit the amount of N and P leaving the area enrolled in the program. Research indicates an average 85% reduction in nitrate-N concentration and a 75% reduction in P load with conversion to CRP from row-crop production. In addition, CRP acres provide plant and animal habitat and soil improvement benefits.
NATIVE TURF & LANDSCAPINGDescription Planting a combination of low growing native grasses can yield a turf that sends roots down 3 to 6 feet into the soil profile (compared to roots of non-native grasses that maybe go down 3 to 6 inches). The deep roots help break up compaction, increase pore space in the soil profile and build up the organic matter content of the soil. Typically, a blend of blue grama and buffalograss are used to establish a native turf lawn, although sideoats grama has also been used. Benefits Rainfall simulator studies on plots of native turf vs. non-native turf in Ankeny, Iowa have shown that significantly more rain is absorbed on the native turf plots. In addition to helping lawns absorb more rain and shed less runoff, native turf requires no fertilization or irrigation once established. Native turf can be mowed - or you can leave native turf unmowed for a different, unique look for a lawn.
NO-TILL / STRIP-TILLDescription Tillage practices affect soil erosion, which is the primary transport process of P delivery in Iowa. Conservation tillage, where 30% or more of the soil surface is covered with crop residue after planting, or no-till, where 70% or more of the soil surface is covered with crop residue after planting, reduces soil erosion and surface runoff. Benefits Tillage effects on P loss are site specific, but less P loss generally occurs with minimum or no tillage than with conventional tillage. The science assessment showed a 90% reduction in P load on no-till ground compared to chisel plowing, and a 33% reduction in P load on ground that had been chisel plowed, compared to moldboard plowed.
PERENNIAL CROPSDescription Energy crops are grown with the intention of using the biomass as a fuel feedstock. There are several methods for conversion of biomass into fuels, and there are multiple crops that may be suitable as feedstock for specific processes. Benefits Replacing row crops with energy crops or integrating energy crops within the row crop landscape decreases erosion, surface runoff, and leaching losses in the area implemented, thus decreasing the loss of both nitrate-N and P. There is substantial nitrate-N reduction potential, with research indicating 72% nitrate-N concentration reduction and 34% reduction in P load with conversion from row-crop production. Additional benefits include increased wildlife habitat, reduced soil erosion, and enhanced soil physical properties.
PRAIRIE STRIPSDescription Prairie strips is a farmland conservation practice. The STRIPS team has shown that integrating small amounts of prairie into strategic locations within corn and soybean fields -- in the form of in-field contour buffer strips and edge-of-field filter strips -- can yield disproportionate benefits for soil, water, and biodiversity. Prairie is expected to provide these disproportionate benefits to a greater degree than other perennial vegetation types because of the diversity of native plant species incorporated, their deep and multilayered root systems, and their stiff-stems that hold up in a driving rain. STRIPS research also shows that prairie strips may be one of the most affordable and environmentally beneficial agricultural conservation practices available. Benefits As all farmers know, not every acre of land produces the same yield. A similar idea applies to conservation: some areas of a field or landscape yield higher conservation benefits than others. By targeting those areas that have a high conservation value, farmers and landowners can gain disproportionate environmental benefits. Research shows that by converting 10% of a crop-field to diverse, native perennial vegetation, farmers and landowners can reduce sediment movement off their field by 95 percent and total phosphorous and nitrogen lost through runoff by 90 and 85 percent, respectively.
PERMEABLE PAVERSDescription Permeable pavers provide a transportation surface that lets water soak down through the gaps between individual pavers into a rock chamber below. The rock chamber is designed for bearing strength and water holding capacity. Water moves out of the voids in the rock chamber and percolates down through the soil, helping recharge ground water, filtering out pollutants, and cooling the water while releasing it slowly. Benefits Transportation related surfaces such as streets, parking lots and driveways account for 60% to 70% of impervious surfaces in urban areas. These impervious areas generate the majority of stormwater runoff. By using permeable pavers we can reduce the volume of runoff and the delivery of pollutants that transport dirty runoff from storm sewers directly to streams. This reduces flashy flows in receiving streams and improves water quality.
RAIN WATER HARVESTINGDescription Rain water harvesting is essentially returning to "cistern technology", that used to be commonly practiced - and still is in arid parts of the world. In the US, runoff from roofs or other impervious surfaces is captured and treated to a minimal level and used for non-potable needs - for things such as watering gardens, flushing toilets, laundry, etc. (not for human consumption) Benefits If a system is sized to handle runoff from a significant amount of rain (a 1.25 inch event is the size of rain that water quality practices are designed for since most rainfall events are less than this amount) then a significant reduction in runoff will be achieved. Reducing the volume of runoff reduces the delivery of pollutants to streams and reduces the flashiness of stream flows (which helps reduce stream corridor erosion). Rain water harvesting also reduces demands on municipal water supply systems and can save money for high water use customers.
RAIN GARDENDescription Rain gardens rely on natural soils that typically allow water to infiltrate and percolate through the soil at acceptable rates. Above ground, rain gardens look the same as biocells. Below ground, they look different - they feature a natural, healthy soil profile that lets water move down through it. Rain gardens are like biocells except they don't have the fully engineered subgrade. Benefits Rain gardens reduce the volume of runoff. They capture and break down pollutants that typically move in urban runoff to receiving streams. They are cheaper to install because there is less material and labor involved in the installations of rain gardens, due to the good soil quality at a rain garden site.
ROW-CROP TO PASTUREDescription There are substantial areas of Iowa, especially in southern counties, in permanent pasture. Pastures can be grouped into several management options including intensively grazed, rotationally grazed, and grazed with cattle fenced off from the stream. Benefits Research suggests pasture/hay ground has limited leaching and erosion, thus reduces nitrate-N loss by at least 85% when compared to any land in corn or soybean (same as land retirement). New markets may develop for grass-fed and organic beef. Although there is little research comparing P loss from pasture and corn-soybean rotation in Iowa, pastures typically have lower soil erosion rates than a corn-soybean rotation on comparable land and can potentially reduce P loss 59%. In addition, pastureland provides wildlife habitat, soil improvement benefits, increases carbon sequestration and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
SATURATED BUFFERDescription Underground pipes divert water from cropland, reducing stress on plants. A box diverts water flow into the buffer, increasing the shallow groundwater level and nutrient removal. Benefits
- Existing buffer removes sediment, phosphorus and pesticides and provides wildlife habitat.
- Nitrate is removed through denitrification and plant uptake.
SHALLOW DRAINAGEDescription Subsurface tile drains are installed more closely together, but shallower than conventional tile drainage installation in Iowa - 2.5 feet compared to 4 feet. Benefits Corn yields and nitrate-N concentrations are not affected significantly, but tile drainage volume is reduced by an average of 32%, thus reducing nitrate load. A benefit of shallow drainage over drainage water management is that there is no need for annual or biannual management.
SOIL QUALITY RESTORATIONDescription New construction often involves mass grading and traffic by construction equipment, which typically leaves soils in new development areas compacted and unable to absorb much rain. Soil quality restoration at new development sites involves de-compacting (i.e. tillage to shatter compacted soils) and incorporation of compost to increase the organic matter content of the soil. On existing lawns, deep tined aeration is performed to create "macro-pores" or holes that allow water to move down into the top 6-8 inches of the soil profile. Then a shallow layer of compost is spread to increase the organic matter content of the soil. Benefits Organic matter helps the landscape absorb rain. For each percent of organic matter the landscape should be able to absorb about 0.6 of an inch of rain. People are encouraged to "Strive for Five" percent organic matter content which should help the landscape absorb 3 inches of rain without shedding runoff. Historically, 99% of rainfall events have been less than 3 inch events. Soil quality restoration on both the urban and agricultural landscapes offers the greatest opportunity for increasing water holding capacity over the largest area, for the least cost and in the least amount of time compared to most best management practices.
STORMWATER WETLANDSDescription Stormwater wetlands are constructed stormwater management practices, not natural wetlands. Like ponds, they can contain a permanent pool and temporary storage for water quality control and runoff quantity control. Wetlands are widely applicable stormwater treatment practices that provide both water quality treatment and water quantity control. Stormwater wetlands are best suited for drainage areas of at least 10 acres. When designed and maintained properly, stormwater wetlands can be an important aesthetic feature of a site. Benefits Pollutants are removed from stormwater runoff in a wetland through uptake by wetland vegetation and biota (algae, bacterial), vegetative filtering, soil adsorption, and gravitational settling in the slow moving marsh flow. Volatilization and chemical activity can also occur, breaking down and assimilating a number of other stormwater contaminants such as hydrocarbons. stormwater wetlands have the advantage of providing both educational and habitat value.
STREAM BUFFERSDescription A buffer is a vegetated area strategically placed between cropland and a stream or other water body that acts as a filter. Buffers along streams come in many sizes and shapes and can host a diverse plant population. Many factors influence buffer performance including buffer width, vegetation type and age, and depth to the water table. Benefits Buffers are designed to settle sediment and sediment-bound N and P, along with retaining nitrate-N and dissolved P. Research indicates an average nitrate-N concentration reduction of 91% for water passing through a buffer root zone and a 58% reduction in P contained in sheet flow. Riparian buffers also can reduce P delivery to water bodies by stabilizing stream banks. Buffers provide wildlife habitat, sequester carbon, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and potentially reduce flood impacts.
STREAM STABILIZATIONDescription Stream corridor stabilization involves controlling down cutting stream beds and shaping, armoring and vegetating vertical, eroding stream banks. Down cutting stream beds are usually controlled by installing riffle-pool systems that stop the advance of "nick points" (vertical drops in the stream bed). Nick points are evidence of a bed that is down cutting. Vertical, bare stream banks are excavated back to a stable slope, which usually requires a bank sloped back 3 horizontal feet for every 1 foot of vertical height. Once a bank is sloped back it can be vegetated. Deep, rooted native prairie plants are recommended for stream bank vegetation to hold banks in place. Toes of steam banks can be armored with rip rap rock or other measures. Armoring protects the toes of slopes from the bounce in flows associated with runoff from the frequent, small rainfall events that account for the vast majority of annual precipitation. Benefits Researchers at ISU have documented that 60% to 70% of sediment loading is from stream corridor erosion in some watersheds. Stabilizing eroding stream corridors will reduce sediment loading and phosphorus delivery that is attached to soil eroding from stream banks. In some cases, stabilizing urban stream corridors is needed to protect infrastructure such as sanitary sewers or trails that may be threatened by erosion in the a down cutting bed or an eroding bank. In many cases, habitat enhancement can be done in conjunction with stream corridor stabilization to create or improve a fishery.
TERRACESDescription Terraces are earthen structures that intercept runoff on moderate to steep slopes. They transform long slopes into a series of shorter slopes. Terraces reduce the rate of runoff and allow soil particles to settle out. The resulting cleaner water is then carried off the field in a non-erosive manner. Benefits Terraces are used to reduce sheet and rill erosion and prevent gully development. They are most effective when used in combination with other practices such as conservation tillage, crop rotations, and field borders. Terracing reduces sediment pollution of lakes and streams. Grassed frontslopes and back-slopes of some terraces provide cover for wildlife.
WATER SEDIMENT BASINSDescription This is an embankment built across a depressional area of concentrated water runoff. It traps sediment and water running off farmland above the structure, preventing it from reaching farmland and water bodies below. Benefits
- Improves ability to farm on sloping lands
- Improves water quality by trapping sediment on uplands and preventing it from reaching water bodies
- Reduces gully erosion by controlling water flow within a drainage area
- May provide cover for small birds and animals
WATERSHED PLANNINGDescription When it comes to improving your local lake, river or stream, it takes an approach that looks at how the land affects the water and that involves those that live in that area. Effective watershed improvement starts by involving the community and those experienced in natural resources in creating a long-term comprehensive plan. Like a road map directing you from the start to finish of your effort, the plan helps you create a strategic, targeted plan for making changes in your watershed. Benefits Community-based planning is a voluntary, locally-led planning process that addresses social, economic and environmental concerns. Involving local stakeholders in the initial stages of developing a watershed plan helps ensure long-term success by getting local feedback on the complex set of economic, social and environmental data collected through the planning process. It also encourages local interest and action by fostering community ownership of the waterbody. Community-based planning helps formulate a group vision of the watershed or waterbody that will inspire citizens to act by prioritizing the identified issues in the watershed.
WETLANDSDescription Wetlands targeted for water quality improvement are strategically located and designed to remove nitrate from tile-drainage water from cropland areas. Benefits Performance of installed wetlands is dependent on the wetland-to-watershed ratio, meaning how large is the wetland compared to the watershed area above the wetland. The larger the wetland, the greater the percentage of nitrate-N and P removal. From reported values from multiple wetlands in Iowa, the nitrate concentration reduction averages 52%. Wetlands also provide improved aesthetics and Iowa game and waterfowl habitat.
Thanks tohttps://www.cleanwateriowa.org for the thurough information
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