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Watershed Conservation on Grazing Lands in Central Texas - Cowhouse Creek Case Study

Wilcox, Bradford
Texas A&M University
Start date
End date
Goal 1 - Data Analysis, Model Development, and Scenario Testing On the basis of syntheses and analysis of the data, and the results of landscape modeling, we will determine the influence of grazing-land conservation practices on watershed health and functioning in the Cowhouse Creek watershed of Central Texas.
Objective 1.a: Advance our understanding of runoff and erosion generation on rangelands and how these processes are affected by scale of observation, disturbance, and watershed conservation practices. We will meet this objective by synthesizing and comparing data collected at the various watersheds that have been monitored.
Objective 1.b: Develop a fully calibrated and tested watershed model that is capable of simulating the influence of watershed conservation practices on rangeland hydrology.
Objective 1.c: Determine the influence of various combinations of watershed conservation practices on runoff and erosion processes at the watershed and regional scales. We will meet this objective by using a calibrated and tested model to evaluate watershed conservation scenarios on a 16,000 hectare sub-watershed within Cowhouse Creek (Creek) and then on the entire ~187,000 hectare Cowhouse Creek watershed.

Goal 2 - Understanding the Socioeconomic Setting We will examine the socioeconomic drivers of, and constraints on, conservation of grazing lands.
Objective 2.a: Obtain preliminary information about stakeholders' interests and concerns regarding land management in Cowhouse Creek and the use of water from Belton Lake. We will meet this objective through the use of focus groups.
Objective 2.b: Obtain information from stakeholders with interests in the use of water from Belton Lake, into which Cowhouse Creek drains. We will use personal interviews and web-based surveys to meet this objective.
Objective 2.c: Determine the following: 1) landowners' perceptions regarding watershed conservation and their potential role in contributing to the restoration of the watershed; (2) landowners' interest in developing and enrolling in a watershed conservation association; (3) landowners' interests and concerns about the application of alternative land management practices for restoring impaired watersheds; and (4) landowners' willingness to participate in cost-sharing programs and the extent to which alternative cost-sharing arrangements would influence landowner participation.

Goal 3 - Extension/Outreach Programs Develop and implement an extension and outreach program that encourages and supports those conservation practices found to be most beneficial.
Objective 3.a: Establish functioning networks of stakeholders (focus groups) to facilitate communication of watershed conservation issues and concerns.
Objective 3.b: Educate stakeholders on the findings of the Cowhouse Creek Case Study using printed and internet-based documentation.
Objective 3.c: Through skill-level training, acquaint landowners and managers with new and existing technology and methods.
Objective 3.d: Based of project results, develop a set of scholarly articles for publication within appropriately prestigious journals.

More information
Non-Technical Summary: The purpose of this study is to understand how specific conservation practices and suites of those practices affect overall watershed health at the watershed/landscape scale. Study goals are to: 1) describe the influence of grazing land conservation practices on watershed health in central Texas geographic setting; 2) understand the socioeconomic drivers of, and constraints on, conservation of grazing lands; and 3) develop and implement an extension and outreach program that encourages and supports conservation practices found to be most beneficial. The approach will be to use an extensive existing data set (developed over the past 15 years by Fort Hood personnel and other public and private agencies) and a spatially explicit physical process computer model (APEX - Agricultural Policy/Environmental eXtender model) to simulate changing conditions in the watershed, and subsequent outcomes. The analysis will incorporate information about the cost of implementing conservation practices and the nature of economic benefits. This will be based on information by and for the stakeholders with interests in conservation within the watershed, and those stakeholders with interests in the water delivered downstream. The project will result in: 1) improved understanding of fundamental linkages between grazing land conservation practices and watershed health at a watershed/landscape scale; 2) increased capacity for improving watershed health through grazing land conservation through a broadly applicable modeling tool; 3) identification of an optimal suite of conservation practices as well as their timing and geographic distribution at the landscape scale within this region, for maximizing watershed health; and 4) extension and outreach activities that transfer this knowledge and these tools to the stakeholders for long-term implementation.

Approach: Goal 1: Data Analysis, Model Development, and Scenario Testing - Data will be compiled, organized and stored in a database developed and maintained to support analytical activities. - Data summarized and synthesized to determine fundamental rangeland hydrology relationships. - Inter-watershed scale comparisons implemented to understand relationship between disturbance and impact on runoff and erosion at multiple scales. - Comprehensive evaluation of impacts of conservation practices on watershed sustainability; examining precipitation, runoff, and erosion trends related to timing of practice implementation. Model Inputs - Collect and assemble data needed to run and verify the APEX model for pre- and post-BMP conditions. - Model Calibration and Evaluation - APEX calibrated for each watershed. Calibration through the use of sensitivity analysis and automatic parameter optimization techniques. - Using calibrated and field-tested APEX model, test watershed process changes by degree of degradation. - APEX model used to evaluate how mechanical/engineered conservation practices affect patterns and trends in runoff and water quality. BMPs tested individually and in combinations. - APEX used to evaluate selected management practice influence on watershed processes. - Regional scale modeling - An APEX framework and database for simulating watershed processes and the influence of land use within the entire Cowhouse Creek watershed will be completed. Goal 2: Understanding the socio-economic setting - Through focus group meetings, project will identify stakeholder interests and concerns regarding land management and water use from Belton Lake. County Extension Agents asked to disseminate information about the study through local media and identify/invite representatives of stakeholder groups to focus meetings. A structured questionnaire will be used to provide a framework for discussions during the meetings. - Personal interviews and web-based surveys utilized to gather information regarding discharge of water into and extraction of water from Belton Lake in effort to understand perceived link between land management in the Cowhouse Creek watershed and sediment discharge into Belton Lake and the role of public funding for restoring impaired lands. - Pilot survey will be conducted with 20 landowners to test survey, survey will then be revised to eliminate ambiguity and redundancy and address additional key issues. Revised questionnaire will be mailed to 600 randomly selected landowners. Qualified landowners will be stratified into two categories on the basis of median property size for counties. Goal 3: Extension/Outreach Programs - Extension personnel will work with project team to establish stakeholder groups in counties. County Extension Agents will facilitate formal meetings. - Extension publications will be developed to interpret research outcomes. - Information from the project will be synthesized and packaged to deliver watershed conservation training to end users. Internet based training will be through development of e-learning modules developed with Moodle on eXtension. - Research results will be published within appropriate scholarly journals.

Funding Source
Nat'l. Inst. of Food and Agriculture
Project source
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Policy and Planning