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Status and Trends in Suspended-Sediment Discharges, Soil Erosion, and Conservation Tillage in the Maumee River Basin--Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana

By Donna N. Myers and Kevin D. Metzker, U.S. Geological Survey, and 
     Steven Davis, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service

    Water-Resources Investigations Report 00-4091

    In cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the
    U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service

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ABSTRACT

The relation of suspended-sediment discharges to conservation-tillage practices and soil loss were analyzed for the Maumee River Basin in Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana as part of the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Water-Quality Assessment Program. Cropland in the basin is the largest contributor to soil erosion and suspended-sediment discharge to the Maumee River and the river is the largest source of suspended sediments to Lake Erie. Retrospective and recently-collected data from 1970-98 were used to demonstrate that increases in conservation tillage and decreases in soil loss can be related to decreases in suspended-sediment discharge from streams.

Average annual water and suspended-sediment budgets computed for the Maumee River Basin and its principal tributaries indicate that soil drainage and runoff potential, stream slope, and agricultural land use are the major human and natural factors related to suspended-sediment discharge. The Tiffin and St. Joseph Rivers drain areas of moderately to somewhat poorly drained soils with moderate runoff potential. Expressed as a percentage of the total for the Maumee River Basin, the St. Joseph and Tiffin Rivers represent 29.0 percent of the basin area, 30.7 percent of the average-annual streamflow, and 9.31 percent of the average annual suspended-sediment discharge. The Auglaize and St. Marys Rivers drain areas of poorly to very poorly drained soils with high runoff potential. Expressed as a percentage of the total for the Maumee River Basin, the Auglaize and St. Marys Rivers represent 48.7 percent of the total basin area, 53.5 percent of the average annual streamflow, and 46.5 percent of the average annual suspended-sediment discharge. Areas of poorly drained soils with high runoff potential appear to be the major source areas of suspended sediment discharge in the Maumee River Basin.

Although conservation tillage differed in the degree of use throughout the basin, on aver-age, it was used on 55.4 percent of all crop fields in the Maumee River Basin from 1993-98. Conservation tillage was used at relatively higher rates in areas draining to the lower main stem from Defiance to Waterville, Ohio and at relatively lower rates in the St. Marys and Auglaize River Basins, and in areas draining to the main stem between New Haven, Ind. and Defiance, Ohio. The areas that were identified as the most important sediment-source areas in the basin were characterized by some of the lowest rates of conservation tillage.

The increased use of conservation tillage was found to correspond to decreases in suspended-sediment discharge over time at two locations in the Maumee River Basin. A 49.8 percent decrease in suspended-sediment discharge was detected when data from 1970-74 were compared to data from 1996-98 for the Auglaize River near Ft. Jennings, Ohio. A decrease in suspended-sediment discharge of 11.2 percent was detected from 1970–98 for the Maumee River at Waterville, Ohio. No trends in streamflow at either site were detected over the period 1970-98. The lower rate of decline in suspended-sediment discharge for the Maumee River at Waterville, Ohio compared to the Auglaize River near Ft. Jennings, may be due to resuspension and export of stored sediments from drainage ditches, stream channels, and flood plains in the large drainage basin upstream from Waterville. Similar findings by other investigators about the capacity of drainage networks to store sediment are supported by this investigation. These findings go undetected when soil loss estimates are used alone to evaluate the effectiveness of conservation tillage. Water-quality data in combination with soil-loss estimates were needed to draw these conclusions. These findings provide information to farmers and soil conservation agents about the ability of conservation tillage to reduce soil erosion and suspended-sediment discharge from the Maumee River Basin.


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