Kerr, J. M., J. V. DePinto, D. McGrath, S. P. Sowa, and S. M. Swinton. 2016. Sustainable management of Great Lakes watersheds dominated by agricultural land use. Journal of Great Lakes Research 42:1252-1259.
Runoff of agricultural nutrients and sediments has led to re-eutrophication of lakes and impaired stream health in the Great Lakes Basin since around 2000 following earlier success in protecting water quality. Substantial investment in conservation actions has had insufficient impact, due in part to a limited basis for understanding the likely environmental outcomes of those investments. This article introduces a special section focusing on promoting investment that produces environmental outcomes as opposed to investing in conservation actions with unknown effects. The special section contains articles in three main categories: 1) studies based on fine-grain SWAT and other simulation modeling that can guide the type, amount, and location of conservation investments to increase their environmental impact; 2) edge-of-field measurement studies that provide updated knowledge to assist in further refining models to increase their predictive power; and 3) articles presenting innovative approaches to incentivizing outcome-oriented conservation investment. Implementation approaches discussed include certifying private crop nutrient advisors as recommending only appropriate timing, amount, and placement of nutrients; working within the existing public drain management system to incentivize conservation; and others. The special section shows that advances in SWAT modeling provide a powerful basis for targeting conservation investments to protect water quality in the Great Lakes Basin, while also demonstrating opportunities to further refine the models. It illustrates both the opportunity and the need to engage in more innovative institutional design of agricultural management programs that go beyond the traditional government programs and do more to reward outcomes and not just actions.
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