Data-sharing agreement renewed to evaluate conservations practices and water quality in the Chesapeake Watershed

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Issue: The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) have a mutual interest in meeting the goals of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, and in determining the benefits and challenges of agricultural conservation practices on water-quality patterns. Understanding the sources of nutrients and sediment and how these nutrients move into streams and groundwater is critical to design effective nutrient management and erosion control strategies.

MOU between USGS and NRCS
The USGS and NRCS renewed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on December 10, 2020 to continue the existing cooperation between USGS and NRCS for the evaluation of conservation practices and systems for improving water quality throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The renewed MOU is for five years. The first MOU was established in 2010 and renewed in 2015.

Scope of MOU
The NRCS and USGS will collaborate to produce aggregated data sets that can be incorporated into the Chesapeake Bay Program Watershed Model, and in analysis of water-quality data to assess the impacts of conservation actions. The MOU details privacy protection rules that the USGS will follow and as such the exchange of data by NRCS and USGS, and the use of such data by the entities, will be carried out to protect the privacy of farmers, where conservations practices are being implemented. A similar MOU is also in being renewed with the Farm Service Agency (FSA).

Products based on data from previous MOUs
Selected reports using data made available through this and the previous MOUs have been produced on managing and applying conservation data to better understanding water-quality changes, include:

  • Sekellick, A.J., Devereux, O.H., Keisman, J.L.D., Sweeney, J.S., and Blomquist, J.D., 2019, Spatial and temporal patterns of Best Management Practice implementation in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, 1985–2014: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2018–5171, 25 p.,
  • Hively, W.D., Devereux, O.H., and Keisman, J.L.D., 2018, Agricultural conservation practice implementation in the Chesapeake Bay watershed supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture: U.S. Geological Data Series 1102, 46 p.,
  • Devereux, O.H., Sekellick A.J., and LaMotte, A.E., 2018, Estimated effect of best management practice implementation on water quality in the Chesapeake Bay watershed from 1985 to 2014: U.S. Geological Survey data release,
  • Keisman, J.L.D., Devereux, O.H., LaMotte, A.E., Sekellick, A.J., and Blomquist, J.D., 2018, Manure and fertilizer inputs to land in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, 1950–2012, U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2018–5022, 37 p.,
  • Hively, W.D., Devereux, O.H., and Claggett., P., 2013, Integrating Federal and State data records to report progress in establishing agricultural conservation practices on Chesapeake Bay farms: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2013-1287, 36 p.,

Management Applications
In 2010, the USGS and NRCS collaborated to establish three “showcase” watersheds in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed: Smith Creek, VA; Upper Chester River, MD, and Conewago Creek, PA. In each watershed, USGS established water-quality monitoring and interacted with NRCS to apply the results as they increased implementation of conservation practices with local landowners.

Initial water-quality sampling was conducted to establish base-line conditions and identify stream reaches with high nutrient concentrations. NRCS used the results to help identify places in the watershed to focus conservation practices. A report of the findings was produced:

  • Hyer, K.E., Denver, J.M., Langland, M.J., Webber, J.S., Böhlke, J.K., Hively, W.D., and Clune, J.W., 2016, Spatial and temporal variation of stream chemistry associated with contrasting geology and land-use patterns in the Chesapeake Bay watershed—Summary of results from Smith Creek, Virginia; Upper Chester River, Maryland; Conewago Creek, Pennsylvania; and Difficult Run, Virginia, 2010–2013: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2016–5093, 211 p.,

The showcase watersheds are approaching 10 years of monitoring data, which is considered the minimum period of time to assess water-quality trends. The USGS will be producing a report in 2022 to help relate water-quality trends to implementation of conservation practices in the showcase watersheds.

In addition, NRCS, USGS, and EPA are working to identify additional watersheds to enhance monitoring and explain water-quality response to conservation practices.

For more information:
Contact Mark Nardi at

Posted December 16, 2020


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