Looking to the Future – what’s ahead in the watershed

Any effort to improve water quality in the waters of the Red Cedar Basin will take resources, money, and time, as well as a concerted effort by all stakeholders. Some challenges that are already apparent include a decreasing interest in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). As producers look for ways to stay ahead, and prices for certain commodities rise, land once in CRP is being plowed under when CRP contracts expire. These same issues affect the amount of land being set aside in farmland preservation programs.

As mentioned in previous chapters, there are issues with the availability of funds for many cost-share programs. With state budgets projected to be tight for years to come, this problem will likely be ongoing. Agriculture performance standards, also mentioned previously, pose the continuing challenge of availability of funds for enforcement, regarding both inspections and subsequent cost-share money to install best management practices. Also in certain watersheds including the Red Cedar Basin, agriculture performance standards may need to be stricter in order to restore impaired water bodies.

Cropland practices are sometimes called “soft practices” as opposed to the “hard practices” which are structural modifications like barnyard systems or streambank protection. Historically, soft practices have not been funded as well and are more difficult to implement because they are not visually evident or as straightforward as a manure storage structure or streambank repair. Tracking compliance with nutrient management standards for example, is particularly labor intensive, as it’s difficult to drive by a farm on any given day, and determine how that farmer is applying manure throughout the year. Alternatively, a practice like no-till farming is a bit easier to inspect and verify.

There are many techniques and opportunities for improvement in water quality in the Red Cedar Basin, based on how we manage and live on the land. Hopes for better water quality hinge mostly on three main recommendations:

  1. Monitoring of the water quality in the Basin is important. Most past efforts have been focused on defining the problem. Monitoring efforts in the future should move toward a focus on implementation goals, and tracking progress. This will involve volunteer citizen monitoring, continuing work by agencies such as WDNR and USGS, and further investigation of the link between exposure to algal toxins, both in the water and air, and the health effects of such exposure.
  2. All sources of phosphorus loads to the watershed need to be addressed. This includes urban sources, barnyards, cropland, shoreline erosion/runoff, and point sources. Those sources not regulated will require a concerted effort by stakeholders and partners, especially in light of limited resources mentioned above.
  3. Since research suggests that agricultural cropland is likely the biggest contributor to phosphorus loads in the Basin’s waters, special effort will have to be made to address this issue. With limited resources and limited regulation, this will be a challenge. Producers already struggling to stay ahead will need assistance to implement necessary practices. But successful farming can happen side by side with successful water quality management.

In summary, it’s up to all stakeholders in the Red Cedar Basin to work toward the goal of improved water quality. This includes urban and rural property owners, farmers and producers, lake residents, federal, state and local agencies, and those who recreate on or near the waters. It’s likely true that no matter what is done to address the problem, there will always be times when the water quality in parts of the Basin will be below standards. This is a consequence of many man-made lakes and reservoirs. But with a concerted effort, the frequency and intensity of algal blooms will decrease, and water quality should improve to the point where the waters of the Red Cedar Basin are enjoyable for all for much of the year.

(Click here to see a slide show on this topic)