U.S. Department of Agriculture: Agricultural Research Service, Lincoln, Nebraska


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Published in Transactions of the ASABE Vol. 50(5): 1677-1682.


The Small Watershed Program, administered by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (formerly the Soil Conservation Service), originated in the 1940s and 1950s through the following statutes: the Flood Control Act of 1944, the pilot watershed program (1953-1954), and the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Act of 1954. The Small Watershed Program has been recognized by ASABE as one of the outstanding achievements of agricultural engineering in the 20th century in soil and water. With a $15 billion infrastructure investment, more than 11,000 flood-control dams were constructed, and thousands of acres of farms and ranches are protected by conservation practices. The objectives of the majority of the projects were flood control and watershed protection. Other purposes included water management, municipal and industrial water supply, recreation, fish and wildlife habitat improvement, water quality improvement, and water conservation. Throughout the history of this program, there have been several engineering challenges in the fields of geotechnical engineering, hydrology, and hydraulics. The challenges included designing structures with limited information in unfamiliar conditions in a wide variety of settings. Challenges now include management of an aging infrastructure along with changes in national policy, laws, and needs. This article describes the history and impact of the Small Watershed Program, the engineering challenges surrounding this program, and how these challenges were and are being addressed. This article also takes a looks at future challenges for the Small Watershed Program and what this means for engineers.