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As part of the Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP) Watershed Assessment Studies, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and NRCS jointly funded an evaluation of 13 (mostly retrospective) projects from 2004 to 2011. A synthesis project designed to discover common themes among the 13 studies was led by North Carolina State University (NCSU) in conjunction with five other institutions and organizations. Osmond was principal investigator for the synthesis study.
According to Osmond, the consistent themes throughout and lessons learned from the NIFA watershed studies include:
- The need to assess and plan conservation implementation at the watershed scale (in addition to the field and farm scales) in order to realize "more effective water quality outcomes."
- The desirability of identifying pollutants of concern and their sources before selecting conservation practices. The prioritization and placement conservation practices in critical watershed areas (i.e., those areas generating the most pollution) to ensure the most effective use of resources.
- The need to select and apply practices that will actually be adopted and maintained on the landscape; not simply those that might be effective at mitigating pollutant loading.
- Tracking conservation practice implementation and land management activities to adaptively manage the process is important (i.e., assess accomplishments and the need for additional or altered conservation treatments).
- The importance of establishing water quality monitoring protocols designed to evaluate water quality changes resulting from conservation treatment on the land.