U.S. Department of Agriculture: Forest Service -- National Agroforestry Center


Date of this Version



Published for Proceedings of the 12-15 September 2004 Conference (St. Paul, Minnesota USA).


Conservation buffers are designed to reduce sediment and agrichemical runoff to surface water. Much is known about plot and field scale effectiveness of buffers; but little is known about their watershed scale impact. Our objective was to estimate the watershed scale impact of grass buffers by comparing sediment and agrichemical losses from two adjacent 141-165 hectare watersheds, one with conservation buffers and one without. Rainfall derived runoff events from 2002-2003 were monitored for water runoff, TSS, phosphorous and atrazine loss. A conservation-watershed included 0.8 km of grass buffers and 0.8 km of riparian forest buffer, ridge-tilled corn, corn-beans-alfalfa rotation, terraces and grassed waterways. A control-watershed had no buffers, disk-tilled, continuous corn and grassed waterways. The same application rate and method for atrazine to corn was used in each watershed. Total rainfall during the April-June monitoring period was similar in 2002 and 2003; however, the conservation-watershed produced only 27 mm of runoff, compared to 47 mm from the control. Over two years, TSS and phosphorous losses per hectare were reduced by 97% and 95%, respectively, in the conservation-watershed. Atrazine loss per hectare was 57% less in the conservation watershed. A separation technique showed that for 2002 other conservation practices reduced TSS by 84% and buffers reduced TSS by an additional 13% compared to the control. Similarly, other conservation practices reduced atrazine losses by 29% and buffers accounted for an additional 31%. On a watershed scale buffers can add benefit to a conservation system.