NRCS staff at the South Dakota Watershed Academy in August 2022

Educating Conservation Professionals on Water Quality and Water Resource Management

Conservation planning and watershed planning – to the outside eye the processes can look similar, but take a closer look and you’ll find different goals, different tools, and even a remarkably different lingo. For Dave Kringen, South Dakota State University Extension Water Resources Field Specialist – it’s important to understand both planning processes.

“Most conservation planners working for USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service or other agencies will likely have a soil science, agronomy, or range management background. But they may not have a complete understanding of what the South Dakota water quality standards and beneficial uses are, how lakes and streams end up on a 303d list, or what a Total Daily Maximum Load is,” notes Kringen. “Knowing this information and how to use hydrologic modeling tools can make conservation planning on an area-wide scale more robust. That’s what we were trying to do with the South Dakota Watershed Academy.”

Logo of the South Dakota Watershed AcademyKringen and partners at South Dakota State University Extension hosted the first South Dakota Watershed Academy at the Oak Lake Field Station just outside Brookings in early August this summer.  Ten regional NRCS staff were invited to participate in this first-ever, one-day workshop.

The academy introduced NRCS employees to some of the strategies, concepts and terminology water resource agencies and professionals use and strengthen the connection between the agency’s work assisting South Dakota farmers and ranchers and conservation planning with the protection of water quality and quantity in South Dakota.

Attendees reviewed the South Dakota Integrated Report for Surface Water Quality Assessment – a biennial report produced by the South Dakota Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources – including water quality standards, beneficial uses, monitoring and assessment methods, impairments to South Dakota lakes and streams. Participants also got the opportunity to learn about hydrologic modeling – a key tool conservationists can use to demonstrate how much difference conservation practices could make for erosion, nutrient loss, or other water quality measurements. The group also discussed how hydrologic modeling can be used at a watershed scale to ensure you are investing conservation dollars where they have the biggest impact.

Participants also got hands-on experience taking Secchi tube readings, determining if water sample results were meeting or not meeting numeric standards for a beneficial use, as well as discussion on plotting and analyzing water quality results.

“The workshop was really designed and organized in consultation with NRCS to provide key information on water resources regulation and monitoring for new employees,” notes Kringen. “Folks are coming to conservation from all different backgrounds, so this was a great opportunity to provide professional development on water resource management to help strengthen their conservation planning work – on a field scale and watershed scale.”

Kringen and others at SDSU Extension plan to host the academy again in the future and most likely will open it up to professionals outside of NRCS as a way for agriculture and natural resource professionals to grow their knowledge of water resource management in the state of South Dakota.

“When I was getting my undergraduate degree at SDSU I took a course called Water Quality and Agriculture and the instructor was looking for a graduate student to study water and soil chemistry in agricultural wetland landscapes,” Kringen tells me. “That is really where I got interested in water resource management, so I know first-hand how fascinating the complicated relationship between agriculture and water quality can be. I hope this academy will pass that along to a new cohort or agriculture and conservation professionals.”

David Kringen, South Dakota State University Extension

Headshot of David KringenDavid Kringen is a Water Resources Field Specialist at South Dakota State University Extension. David works to develop and implement educational programming on water-related issues in South Dakota and the Northern Great Plains.

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