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Taking a Closer Look at Farm Runoff in SW Wisconsin

The Meudt Creek and Nighthollow subwatersheds are unique to southwestern Wisconsin. (Joshua Mayer/Flickr)
The Meudt Creek and Nighthollow subwatersheds are unique to southwestern Wisconsin. (Joshua Mayer/Flickr)
April 25, 2018

MADISON, Wis. - New research is under way to help farmers and the environment in southwestern Wisconsin.

Because the region's hilly landscape poses some interesting issues for agriculture and ecology, the state's Department of Natural Resources and Iowa County's conservation staff wanted to look at two areas in particular: the Meudt Creek and Nighthollow subwatersheds in the towns of Ridgeway and Arena, to see what can be done to minimize water pollution from farm runoff.

"Farming along hillsides, you lose all of your topsoil once a big storm comes along," said Devon Hamilton, assistant policy director for the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, an organization working with the DNR on the study, "and it can make things difficult for a producer, but then also difficult on the environment if it's not managed the right way."

Hamilton said the study is still in its early stages, looking at how the land is currently being used and cared for and determining the "nutrient loading," or amount of pollutants that end up in the surrounding creeks. The next steps involve deciding on best practices for the land, estimating nutrient-load reductions, and reaching out to farmers and community members.

Hamilton said the idea isn't to create land-use regulations for farmers but to help them better understand the unique challenges of their landscape and learn to respond to them.

"It's more about understanding the situation in the context of that subwatershed," he said, "and then providing producers with the tools that they need to address what's going on there."

Many farmers in these watersheds want to understand the impact of their practices on water quality. Hamilton said he hopes the Institute will be able to issue best practices for land use in the area by the end of the year.

Elizabeth Braun, Public News Service - WI