A Tale of Two Watersheds
A watershed is defined as an area of land where all of the water that is below it, or that drains off of it, goes into the same place. Unfortunately, watershed management isn’t quite that straightforward.
No two watersheds are alike, even those with similar shapes, drainage patterns, soils, geology, hydrology and land use. Human factors further complicate things. With 93 percent of Missouri’s land in private ownership, landowner goals in particular are a critical factor in planning resource management.
Let’s look at two watershed projects in Missouri that are melding resource concerns with landowner objectives to create successful projects. Brush Creek in southwest Missouri is already completed and meeting more than 80 percent of its project goals. The Little Bourbeuse River/Brush Creek project in east central Missouri is just getting started.
Brush Creek is a mostly agricultural watershed that spans four southwest Missouri counties: Polk, Cedar, St. Clair and Hickory. Most of this 54,000-acre area is dedicated to livestock production.
In the summer of 1993, landowners and several agencies met to discuss their common interest in protecting the Brush Creek watershed. The result was the establishment of the Brush Creek EARTH Project. By July 1994, the project was approved and funding was committed to help landowners improve their farms while protecting Brush Creek watershed.
The Brush Creek EARTH Project brought together several partners with a common goal: to work with landowners in a voluntary spirit to improve and protect the land and water resources. The list of agency partners included U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Missouri Department of Natural Resources, four Soil and Water Conservation Districts, University Extension and the Missouri Department of Conservation. Landowners, however, were the key participants.
Landowners who participated in the EARTH project demonstrated that voluntary efforts could achieve significant conservation goals. They stabilized eroding banks, improved forested buffers and installed grass filters along streams. They also improved grazing rotations, overseeded pastures with legumes, fenced creeks and improved watering systems. More than 17,000 acres in the watershed were brought under improved conservation practices.
By protecting these critical areas along streams from excess nutrients and sediment, landowners improved the water quality of Brush Creek. Meanwhile, the cost-share funds and technical expertise that were provided helped them improve productivity on their farms.
The EARTH project relied heavily on finding homegrown solutions to local issues, so a project committee was created. One landowner from each of the four counties became a