Inicio  /  Water  /  Vol: 15 Par: 19 (2023)  /  Artículo

Physical and Biological Stream Health in an Agricultural Watershed after 30+ Years of Targeted Conservation Practices

Will L. Varela    
Neal D. Mundahl    
Silas Bergen    
David F. Staples    
Jennifer Cochran-Biederman and Cole R. Weaver    


Agricultural activities within watersheds can have negative effects on river ecosystems, but numerous conservation practices can be implemented that reduce soil erosion, increase water infiltration, slow runoff, and improve soil quality. Our study focused on analyzing overall stream health (instream and riparian physical, instream biological) at 56 stream sites within an agricultural watershed (83,000 hectares, 70% croplands, and rangelands) in southeastern Minnesota, USA, with a 30+-year history of targeted conservation practices to protect local water resources of importance for tourism and recreation. After implementation of >900 best management practices (BMPs) over the last 20 years in the study subwatersheds, only 20% of the stream sites examined exhibited good stream health, and 40% were in poor condition, based on a combination of instream and riparian factors and aquatic community integrity. Time since implementation, location, and total coverage of BMPs within the relatively large subwatersheds all may have contributed to the apparently limited effectiveness of these conservation management practices toward producing observable improvements in stream health to date. Many indicators of stream health (e.g., fine sediments, sediment embeddedness, fish biotic integrity) differed significantly among subwatersheds, but those differences could not be explained by differences in numbers or coverages of BMPs in those subwatersheds. Longitudinal stream health patterns were similar among subwatersheds (moderate health in headwaters, poor in mid-reaches, good in lower reaches), likely due, in part, to similarities in locations of spring discharges and channel instability. New rules protecting stream riparia, maintenance of existing BMPs, and future BMPs targeting remaining problem areas should lead to improving stream health in this large watershed.

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