In 2009, the U.S. Department of Agriculture through the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) began the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI) to work with landowners to implement voluntary conservation practices designed to reduce nutrients entering the Gulf of Mexico. The goal of the MRBI program is to improve water quality, restore wetlands, and enhance wildlife habitat while ensuring economic viability of agricultural lands in high-priority watersheds within the Mississippi River Basin (USDA, 2017). However, watershed-scale evaluations identifying specific pollution sources and the conservation practices needed to improve water quality are needed to aid field office staff responsible for working with landowners. Therefore, a comprehensive planning effort aimed at prioritizing specific landscapes, crop types, and the conservation practices available is needed to help NRCS field staff implement the MRBI program where it will be the most effective considering limited available resources.

The Missouri State Office of the NRCS contracted the Ozarks Environmental and Water Resources Institute (OEWRI) at Missouri State University (MSU) to perform a watershed assessment study on two 12-digit hydrologic unit code (HUC) watersheds, the Upper Apple Creek (071401050401) and Middle Apple Creek (071401050403) watersheds located within the larger Upper Mississippi-Cape Girardeau watershed in southeast Missouri. Since the potential for ground water contamination is high due to the areas karst topography, agricultural nonpoint source pollution has been identified as a major concern in the Upper Mississippi-Cape Girardeau watershed (MDNR 2014). Furthermore, a Healthy Watershed Plan developed in 2017 specifically recommends reduction of stream bank erosion and implementation of agricultural best management practices within the Upper Mississippi-Cape Girardeau watershed (MDNR 2017).

The purpose of this assessment is to provide NRCS field staff with the necessary information to identify locations within the watershed where soil, slope, and land use practices have the highest pollution potential and to describe conservation practices that can be the most beneficial to improve water quality. The specific objectives of this assessment are to: (1) Complete a comprehensive inventory of existing data in the watershed including information related to geology, soils, hydrology, climate, land use, and any existing biological or chemical monitoring data available;
(2) Perform a resource assessment of the watershed that includes analysis of the data gathered in the watershed inventory that includes identification of nonpoint source pollutants, water quality impairments, rainfall-runoff characteristics, and a field-based stream bank conditions assessment;
(3) Provide NRCS staff with information on the resource concerns within the watershed, specific field conditions that contribute that most to the water quality impairment, and what conservation practices should be implemented for the existing conditions to get the most water quality benefit.

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Completed for Natural Resources Conservation Service, United States Department of Agriculture.

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