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Political, Social, and Economic Challenges

Political, Social, and Economic Challenges

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Margaret A. Goldman and Brian A. Needelman

cost-share programs include the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and

Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), the Environmental

Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Wetland Reserve Program (WRP),

and the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) (Table 1) with the

majority of wetland restorations implemented under CRP/CREP and

WRP (De Steven and Lowrance, 2011). Wetland projects are also supported

by regional and state programs such as the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal

Bays Trust Fund, Chesapeake Bay Trust, and the National Fish and Wildlife

Foundation’s Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund.

In 2003, the USDA initiated the Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP) to quantify the benefits of conservation practices implemented

under the Farm Bill. CEAP includes a wetland component aimed at assessing the effectiveness of wetland practices in providing ecosystem services

through several regional and watershed-scale studies (Brinson and Eckles,

2011). The CEAP Wetlands Mid-Atlantic study has been underway since

2008 with data collection ongoing on restored and natural wetlands and

prior converted cropland in Delaware, Virginia, and Maryland. CEAP’s

effort has been limited in the Piedmont and North Atlantic Coastal Plain

by a lack of information on how conservation practices are implemented

in the field (De Steven and Lowrance, 2011). Farm Bill conservation programs do not require monitoring of conservation benefits, and since projects are carried out on private land and farmer privacy is protected

Table 1 Farm bill conservation programs


Incentive type

Conservation Reserve

Program (CRP)

Conservation Reserve


Program (CREP)

Wetland Reserve

Program (WRP)

Environmental Quality

Incentives Program


Wildlife Habitat

Incentives Program


Contract period (year)

Annual rents plus cost


Annual rents plus cost

share, easements


Cost share or one-time

easement plus cost


Cost share

10 year contract;

30 year/permanent



Cost share

1e10 and 15ỵ


Wetland Restoration and Creation for Nitrogen Removal


under Section 1619 of the Food Security Act, opportunities for research

have been limited prior to CEAP. Detailed spatial data on wetland practices

would allow us to more fully quantify the effects of wetlands on water quality at watershed scales (Gleason et al., 2011), but this information is not

publicly available for most programs (WRP easements are the exception).

Information on Farm Bill expenditures on these practices, beyond overall

program expenditures, is not reported either (USDA Natural Resource

Conservation Service, 2013). Expenditures on wetland practices could

help us evaluate the cost-effectiveness of these BMPs at county, state,

and regional scales.

3.1.1 Proposed Approach

We recommend that monitoring plans be built into conservation programs. Following the recommendations of CEAP, monitoring programs

should (1) specifically evaluate response to treatment (i.e., nitrate reduction through wetland treatment), (2) monitor conservation practices as

intensively as water quality (i.e., through documentation of wetland

restoration methods and maintenance), and (3) invest in long-term monitoring and technical expertise (Osmond et al., 2012). A coordinated monitoring program could be conducted on a representative subset of wetlands,

across a range of geomorphic and climatic settings. Measurements of inflow

and outflow rates, nitrate concentrations, and temperature could be

collected regularly throughout the year to account for seasonal variability

in nitrate removal. With time, these measurements could be used to calibrate models of wetland performance in different landscapes. The monitoring program employed by Iowa CREP (see Box 1) may serve as a role

model for the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Alternatively, a program could

be established whereby landowners monitor wetlands themselves, with

appropriate technical oversight by the Natural Resources Conservation

Service (NRCS) or partner organizations to ensure data quality. To our

knowledge, this has not been tested, but it is possible that landowners

would be willing to have wetlands on their property monitored so that

they could document reductions for their nutrient management plans.

In addition to a coordinated monitoring program, we propose that standards for recordkeeping be established to compare siting and design

methods. At a minimum, prerestoration conditions (soils, hydrology, vegetation), methods of restoring hydrology, degree of earth-moving, addition

of imported materials, and actual costs should be recorded in order to better

evaluate practices and make future recommendations.


Margaret A. Goldman and Brian A. Needelman

Box 1 Iowa conservation reserve enhancement program

The Iowa Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) is an excellent

example of how water quality monitoring can be built into a wetland conservation program. These CREP wetlands are strategically located and designed to

remove nitrate from tile-drained cropland (Iowa Department of Agriculture

and Land Stewardship, 2013). Representative wetlands are monitored each

year to document nitrate reduction (Crumpton et al., 2006). Wetlands selected

for monitoring range from 0.5% to 2% wetland/watershed ratio and 10 to

30 mglÀ1 average input nitrate concentrations (Crumpton et al., 2006). Weekly

grab samples are taken from each wetland, and automated samplers and flow

meters are installed at inflows and outflows at a subset of wetlands. In addition,

water levels are monitored continuously at outflow structures and water temperature is continuously recorded. In support of the CREP monitoring program, mass

balance analysis and modeling are used to estimate variability in performance of

CREP wetlands based on temperature and precipitation patterns (Crumpton

et al., 2006). These CREP wetlands reportedly remove 40% to 90% of nitrate

inputs (Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, 2012).

Finally, we suggest that program expenditures be reported along with

enrollment by acreage and count. Expenditure data would help us assess

how programs are allocating their funds, and compare how much funding

is available for wetland restoration/creation with how much is spent. Expenditure data would also allow for better accounting of the cost of wetland

practices and help planners determine which programs are most cost-effective

with regard to implementing wetland BMPs for water quality improvement.

3.2 Broad/Unclear Objectives of Wetland BMPs

A number of wetland practices are available through WRP, CRP, EQIP,

and WHIP, four of which are considered water quality BMPs: wetland construction, wetland restoration, wetland creation, and wetland enhancement

(Table 2). The emphasis of these practices has traditionally been on provision

of waterfowl and wildlife habitat, with little attention given to water quality

in siting and design (Crumpton et al., 2006; De Steven and Gramling, 2012).

Wetland construction (656), the only Farm Bill wetland practice whose

explicit purpose is to reduce agricultural runoff, is not yet an approved practice in any of the Bay states, although the Maryland NRCS is currently

considering adding it to the list of approved CREP practices (S. Strano,

2012, pers. comm.).

Wetland Restoration and Creation for Nitrogen Removal


Table 2 Wetland conservation practice standards

NRCS Conservation Practice



Constructed wetland (656)

To reduce pollution potential of runoff and

wastewater from agricultural lands to water


Wetland restoration (657)

To restore wetland function, value, habitat,

diversity, and capacity to a close approximation of

the predisturbance conditions by restoring

conditions conducive to hydric soil maintenance,

wetland hydrology, native hydrophytic

vegetation, original fish and wildlife habitats

Wetland creation (658)

To establish wetland hydrology, vegetation, and

wildlife habitat functions on soils capable of

supporting those functions

Wetland enhancement (659) To increase capacity of specific wetland functions by

enhancing hydric soil functions, hydrology,

vegetation, enhancing plant and animal habitats

The degree to which water quality is addressed in restoration depends on

the program and on the priorities of local and state governments. CREP

program guidelines limit enrollment to eligible cropland containing priorconverted and farmed wetlands, while the WRP allows eligibility of hydrologically degraded wetlands on rangeland and forest production lands as

well. In Maryland, WRP projects often consist of plugging ditches on

forested land that does not receive agricultural N. These restorations remove

little, if any, N from upland areas, although they may help improve regional

water quality through dilution with low-nitrate water (Denver et al., 2014).

Priorities of local conservancies and wildlife organizations also direct

wetland restoration objectives. For example, Ducks Unlimited has

frequently partnered with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and local

agencies to restore wetlands, with the objective of creating waterfowl

habitat (Ducks Unlimited, 2014). The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is

actively involved in wetland restorations, working with federal and local

agencies and landowners to carry out targeted restoration efforts to improve

water quality and wildlife habitat (The Nature Conservancy, 2014). TNC

has developed a LiDAR-based targeting tool to site wetlands where they

can intercept nutrient and sediment runoff (The Nature Conservancy,

2013). By working with scientists, conservation, planners, and other stakeholders, these efforts can help direct conservation program resources toward

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