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Jeff Jackson
Jeff Jackson

How Soil And Water Conservation Improves Water Quality Essays

Soil conservation can be compared to preventive maintenance on a car. Changing the oil and filter, and checking the hoses and spark plugs regularly will prevent major repairs or engine failure later. Similarly, practicing conservation now will preserve the quality of the soil for continued use.

how soil and water conservation improves water quality essays

Soil conservation is a "combination" of practices used to protect the soil from degradation. First and foremost, soil conservation involves treating the soil as a living ecosystem, and recognizing that all the organisms that make the soil their home, play important roles in producing a fertile healthy environment. They are responsible for breaking down organic matter, releasing nutrients, and opening up spaces for the circulation of air and water.

Because most organisms in the soil depend on dead plant and animal matter for their food and energy, soil conservation requires that organic matter be returned to the soil on a continual basis. Organic matter is what provides good soil structure and water holding capacity, promotes water infiltration, and protects the soil from erosion and compaction.

Soil conservation is an active ongoing process throughout which the practitioner must maintain his/her commitment. The first step is to obtain a good basic knowledge of the land resource. This means knowing where the soil is most permeable and susceptible to groundwater contamination from excess pesticides; or where the land is most susceptible to water erosion because of a combination of slope and soil texture. Without this understanding, it is impossible to plan an appropriate conservation strategy.

In conservation tillage, at least 20 to 30 percent of the soil surface is covered in the previous year's crop residue after planting. The residue reduces wind velocity at the soil surface and breaks the impact of raindrops. Root systems hold the soil in place. If practiced across a slope, rows of stubble act as small dams to slow water as it runs down hill.

Aside from erosion control, the other advantages of conservation tillage are increased water infiltration, a greater addition of organic matter to the soil, and savings of fuel and time for the farmer. Conservation tillage also enhances wildlife habitat for soil organisms, birds and small animals like field mice and snakes.

When used as a green fertilizer, legumes return a significant amount of organic matter to the soil. Their deep roots create tunnels for air and water to enter the soil. All these characteristics in turn guard the surface against water and wind erosion.

Cover crops are crops planted to reduce the impact of wind and water on bare soil. They absorb the impact of rain, reduce the speed of runoff, hold the soil in place, and encourage greater infiltration; and hence less runoff.

A buffer strip is an area of land adjacent to a watercourse that is vegetated with grasses or bushes. The plant cover filters sediment out of runoff, holds the soil in place and prevents washout, slumping, and reductions in water quality due to siltation. Buffer strips are generally 2 to 5 meters wide. (The width varies according to soil texture and slope). They should be protected from tillage, machinery and cattle access to work effectively.

Aside from erosion control, buffer strips provide excellent wildlife habitat for small animals and insects. If forested, they can improve stream habitat by shading the water and making the environment more suitable to fish species like trout. The leaves that fall into the water provide organic matter for small stream invertebrates which are in turn food for larger stream animals like crayfish. Stream-side forests are extremely productive habitats for wildlife, and like shelter belts, they also improve the aesthetic quality of the environment.

A grassed waterway is a permanently vegetated saucer-shaped channel designed to carry surface runoff across land without causing erosion. It is commonly used where gully or rill erosion is taking place due to the concentrated flow of water overland. The grass slows the flow of water and protects the soil from erosion. The water is carried safely to a stable outlet such as a drainage ditch or stream.

A terrace is a constructed earthen ridge with a water channel along the upper side. There are several design options, but commonly both the ridge and channel are permanently grassed. Terraces are designed to intercept runoff on a slope, and reduce its erosive action on the soil down the slope. Water is channeled at a slower speed, along the vegetated channel to a safe, stable outlet such as a grassed waterway or standpipe or drop inlet.

A rock chute is a pile of rocks designed to move concentrated water flows over steep slopes. Drop inlets and rock chutes are often used to "step" water down where there are rapid changes in elevation, and thereby protect soil from erosion.

Natural fertilizers include live stock manure, mulch, municipal sludge, and legume plants such as alfalfa or clover. Manure and sludge are applied by spreading it over the land and then working it into the soil. Strict guidelines must be followed in timing applications, since both sludge and manure can cause major water contamination if handled improperly. Legumes such as clover or alfalfa are grown and then tilled into the soil as "green fertilizer".

Three common methods used to control stream bank erosion are rip rap, gabion baskets and re-vegetation. Ther first two methods use loose rock to break the impact of stream water on the bank, and to protect the underlying loose soil surface. Rip rap is loose rock on a steep bank. An advantage of rip rap is the rock will give to the pressure of ice and frost, whereas concrete might crack. Gabion baskets are wire baskets filled with rock. The wire prevents rock movement. They are typically used on steeper slopes and where water is flowing at higher speeds.

A sedimentation pond is especially important on a construction site if large areas of soil must remain exposed for a long period. The pond generally consists of a large depression (sized according to the drainage area) which allows the sediment laden runoff waters to be temporarily detained. This storing of runoff reduces its velocity and allows the soil particles to drop out or fall to the bottom of the pond. The clean water is then taken off the surface and guided to an appropriate outlet to a stream or ditch.

Most of what has been described above relates primarily to agriculture. However, the principles apply to all land uses. Construction crews and foresters need to protect stream banks and use buffer strips as well. They can avoid major erosion problems and protect soil resources by understanding the natural flow of watercourses, the lay of the land, and the need for organic matter and a diverse environment.

Collin County SWCD #535 was recognized as the 2022 Outstanding SWCD. Located in the Blackland Prairie region, just north of the Dallas Metroplex, Collin County SWCD works diligently to ensure that local natural resources are properly managed and protected. They work diligently to educate and assist landowners with putting conservation efforts on the ground. Collin County SWCD works continuously with engineering firms and developers to ensure the integrity of 99 local floodwater retarding structures are maintained for the safety of its citizens, as well as the infrastructure of the county. The SWCD also has an active EPA 319 grant from the TSSWCB, which has allowed the implementation of over 2,500 Water Quality Management Plans within the Lavon Lake Watershed.

Healthy watersheds provide critical services, such as clean drinking water, productive fisheries, and outdoor recreation, that support our economies, environment, and quality of life. The health of clean waters is heavily influenced by the condition of their surrounding watersheds, mainly because pollutants can wash off from the land to the water and cause substantial harm. Utilizing Stewardship Week to inform students and communities of their dependance and responsibility to our watersheds will create guardians of one of our most precious resources, water.

Wetlands are important features in the landscape that provide numerous beneficial services for people and for fish and wildlife. Some of these services, or functions, include protecting and improving water quality, providing fish and wildlife habitats, storing floodwaters and maintaining surface water flow during dry periods. These valuable functions are the result of the unique natural characteristics of wetlands.

Wetlands' microbes, plants and wildlife are part of global cycles for water, nitrogen and sulfur. Scientists now know that atmospheric maintenance may be an additional wetlands function. Wetlands store carbon within their plant communities and soil instead of releasing it to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. Thus wetlands help to moderate global climate conditions.

Far from being useless, disease-ridden places, wetlands provide values that no other ecosystem can. These include natural water quality improvement, flood protection, shoreline erosion control, opportunities for recreation and aesthetic appreciation and natural products for our use at no cost. Protecting wetlands can protect our safety and welfare.

One morning in March, Conservation Matters joined up with members of the Texas Water Resources Institute (TWRI) water team to get a behind the scenes look at the water quality monitoring process. Check out this photo essay to see what it takes to survey and measure water quality in the Navasota River.

Soil erosion is a gradual process that occurs when the impact of water or wind detaches and removes soil particles, causing the soil to deteriorate. Soil deterioration and low water quality due to erosion and surface runoff have become severe problems worldwide. The problem may become so severe that the land can no longer be cultivated and must be abandoned. Many agricultural civilizations have declined due to land and natural resource mismanagement, and the history of such civilizations is a good reminder to protect our natural resources.


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