Cultivating Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy, and Water Systems (INFEWS)

Cultivating Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy, and Water Systems (INFEWS)

Minnesota Office for Soil Health

Minnesota Office for Soil Health

Project description:

“Building Common Ground for Water Quality and Agricultural Production”
The Minnesota Office for Soil Health will be a new collaborative initiative between the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) and the University of Minnesota Water Resources Center (WRC) to support increasing awareness of the benefits of soil health and soil conservation through research and outreach that expand the tools and skills of Minnesota’s conservation delivery professionals. The mission of the initiative is to protect and improve soil resources and water quality by developing the knowledge, skills and abilities of local experts to more effectively promote sustainable soil and land management. In particular, the initiative will emphasize the importance of soil health and the water quality and economic impacts of applied land and water management practices.

Project Staff:

The WRC will lead the University’s involvement in cooperation with the U of M Extension, the Department of Soil, Water, and Climate, and other University units. Program activities will be guided and advised by a leadership group consisting of the WRC staff affiliated with the program, U of M faculty members, BWSR staff, the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) State Conservationist, and the Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts (MASWCD).

Anna Cates, State Soil Health Specialist, 612 625 3135

Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework: Training and Evaluation Projects

Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework: Training and Evaluation Projects

Project description:

The Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework (ACPF) is a watershed approach to conservation planning and it is a set of technical tools semi-automated within ArcGIS software. Users can generate detailed maps showing where conservation practices are suitable and effective.

The ACPF was developed by researchers with the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in Ames, IA. The interest of the Water Resources Center is to examine the value of the ACPF in Minnesota, learn how to use the ACPF output maps as part of watershed approach to planning and implementation, and provide training to local conservation staff across the Midwest.

  • What is the ACPF? (pdf, 1.5MB) -- a brief description and samples of the output maps

  • North Central Region Water Network’s ACPF webpage. -- download the ACPF and find links to more information

The following are projects led by the University of Minnesota Water Resources Center.

Training for a Watershed Approach Using the ACPF

Funder: US Environmental Protection Agency

Dates: Summer 2016 - Summer 2020

Collaborators: University of Wisconsin Extension, Purdue University

Project summary: Implementing the ACPF requires both technical and social skills. Based on information gathered from watersheds that have successfully implemented the ACPF, training will be developed and delivered to expand use of the ACPF as part of a watershed approach.  


  1. In watersheds where the ACPF has been implemented, interview local conservationists, ag advisors, producers, and landowners. Learn how they understand, use, and respond to the ACPF maps; what watershed-based approach was used; and whether it increased practice implementation. Based on the interviews, develop a set of “best practices” for implementing the ACPF as part of a watershed approach to conservation.

  2. Develop training and support materials based on the best practices identified in Activity A.

  3. Deliver training materials online.

  4. Deliver in-person training workshops, and support local users of the ACPF.

The Small Watershed Policy Forum

The Small Watershed Policy Forum on August 31, 2017 was hosted by the University of Minnesota Water Resources Center and the Harvard Environmental Policy Initiative. Twenty-nine participants from 10 states included leaders in watershed management from state NRCS offices, soil and water conservation district organizations, watershed divisions of state EPA agencies, and state agriculture departments. The group was charged with examining the policy and institutional barriers and opportunities for planning for implementation at the small watershed scale. They identified challenges and learned how their counterparts in other states have supported small watershed implementation, despite federal and state policies often designed to support planning at larger scales or implementation at the scale of farms and stream reaches.

Ann Lewandowski. 2018. Deploying Technology for Small Watershed-Based Conservation 

Konopacky, Jamie and Laurie Ristino. 2017. The healthy watershed framework: A blueprint for restoring nutrient-impaired waterbodies through integrated Clean Water Act and Farm Bill conservation planning and implementation at the subwatershed level. Environmental Law. Vol 47:647.

ACPF Technical Training

Funder: USDA Agricultural Research Service, with funds from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Dates:  March 2016 - July 2017

Collaborators: University of Wisconsin Extension, Purdue University, USDA ARS


  • Develop training materials and videos for expanded use of the ACPF toolbox

  • Organize hands-on training workshops

  • Develop guidance for use of ACPF results in watershed projects in several midwestern states

Evaluating the ACPF

Funder: McKnight Foundation

Dates: May 2015 - April 2016

Project summary: Evaluate the use of the ACPF in Minnesota by training local GIS technicians, supporting them as they use the ACPF in their watersheds, and then interviewing them to learn about their experience. The following reports describe what participants said about applications of, barriers to, and recommendations for the ACPF.


Bulletin for local government and non-governmental staff: The Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework: Experience from Minnesota ACPF Users (pdf, 194 kb)

Final project report: Evaluation of the Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework (pdf, 163 kb)

For more information

Ann Lewandowski


Rural Stream Handbook

Rural Stream Handbook

Project description:

An online publication suitable for printing is being developed titled “Fields to Streams: Managing Water in Rural Landscapes.” It will be a resource to rural landowners, managers, and conservation professionals to assist them in adopting land and water management practices that will moderate excessive stream-flows that are causing high levels of stream-bank, bluff, and ravine erosion. Part 1 of the publication describes the processes that formed Minnesota’s landscapes and continue to form them. Part 2 describes land and water management practices that can be combined to reduce stream degradation and improve water quality.

Project Staff:
  • Ann Lewandowski, UM Water Resources Center
  • Les Everett, UM Water Resources Center
  • Chris Lenhart, UM Dept. of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering
  • Karen Terry, UM Extension
  • Rick Moore, MSU-Mankato, Water Resources Center
  • Chuck Brandel, I&S Group, Engineer
  • Brenda DeZiel, MPCA

McKnight Foundation

Project Duration:

April 2014 through October 2015


Anticipated in fall 2015

Conservation Drainage Focus Group

Conservation Drainage Focus Group

Project Staff:

Ann Lewandowski, WRC, University of Minnesota

Mark Dittrich, MN Department of Agriculture


This is part of the Drainage Systems Management Education and Stakeholder Feedback Workshops Project funded by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, Department of Natural Resources, Pollution Control Agency, and Board of Water and Soil Resources; and University of Minnesota Extension; through EPA 319 grant #C9-97593508-0

Project Duration:

July 2009 through December 2010. Focus groups were conducted in January-February 2010.


The purpose of this study was to gain insight into how drainage professionals around the state think about “conservation drainage” practices. It is a study of the people most directly involved in implementing drainage, with the results intended for use by a broader group of all stakeholders interested in drainage and its impacts. As the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, University of Minnesota, and other organizations plan outreach, research, and water-related projects, this study provides information about the knowledge and perspectives of the people who actually design, install, and regulate agricultural drainage.


Nine focus group sessions were conducted with three stakeholder groups (engineers and agency staff, contractors and farmers, drainage authorities) in three locations (Crookston, Montevideo, Mankato). Each focus group was preceded by a presentation about the current state of research and policy related to drainage. During the focus group discussion, participants were asked about the barriers to implementing various drainage practices, and the relationships between drainage practices and water quality and flows.

Reports and Publications:

Conservation Drainage Workshops and Field Tours

Conservation Drainage Workshops and Field Tours

Project description:

Sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and other partners
Weather patterns are changing, demand for agricultural productivity keeps rising, and people want flood protection and healthy water for future generations. In response, new approaches to agricultural drainage are being developed by counties, watershed districts, researchers, and landowners. These “conservation drainage” approaches can make farmland more productive, reduce flood risk, and reduce impacts on the environment such as excess nutrients.

Attend these workshops and field tours to learn about conservation strategies and to hear how other communities have built partnerships to meet multiple water management goals.

Who should attend? Anyone who is thinking about installing tile drainage, contractors, drainage authorities, local government employees, and consultants who implement drainage practices and policies.

August 28 - August 29, 2012 Hankinson, ND

Agenda > >

Gary Sands (UMN) - "Tile Drainage: Hydrology and the RRB"

Chuck Fritz (IWI) - "Briefing Paper #2: Water Management Options for Subsurface Drainage"

Sonia Jacobsen (NRCS) - "Conservation Drainage Planning"

Al Kean (BWSR) - "Conservation Drainage Management Program Grants"

July 31st to August 1st, 2012 Granite Falls, MN

Agenda >>

Doug Albin - “What it takes to plan a drainage project

Lucas Youngsma, Skip Wright (DNR) – “Outlets, streambank processes and cumulative impacts

Gary Sands (University of Minnesota) – “Tiling depth and spacing: economics and environmental aspects

Dan Jaynes (USDA) – “Saturated buffers

Dave Craigmile – “Geography, Coteau Rivers & Agriculture

Marilyn Bernhardson (Redwood County Soil and Water Conservation District) – “Building Partnerships for Multiple Water Goals

Patrick Moore (Clean-Up the River Environment) – “Building Partnerships for Multiple Water Goals

Kyle Skov (Board of Water and Soil Resources) – “Conservation Drainage Funding and Training Opportunities”

Michelle Legatt (Natural Resources Conservation Service) - “Conservation Drainage Funding and Training Opportunities”

Roger Risser (Watonwan County) - “Drainage Records Modernization”

Bob Moline (Murray County Commissioner and Area II Chair) – “Area II Minnesota River Basin Projects

Henry Van Offlen (Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy) – “Implementing conservation practices to provide multipurpose benefits at the watershed scale: The need for strategic coordination and approaches to getting it done”

Chris Lenhart (University of Minnesota) – “Bank Stabilization Approaches

Chuck Brandel (I&S Group), Craig Austinson (Blue Earth County), Leo Getsfried (MN Department of Natural Resources) – “Ditch Modifications

Todd Kolander (MN Department of Natural Resources) – “Assessing Downstream Effects”

Andry Ranaivoson (University of Minnesota) – “Woodchip Bioreactor Results From Minnesota

Paul Wymar (Chippewa River Watershed Project) – “Watershed Response to Water Storage

Craig Austinson (Blue Earth County), Chuck Brandel (I&S Group) – “Multiple Landowner Drainage Projects: What Really Happened?”

Antibiotic Losses in Runoff and Drainage from Manure-applied Fields

Antibiotic Losses in Runoff and Drainage from Manure-applied Fields

Project Staff:

Principal Investigator: Satish Gupta, Professor, Department of Soil, Water, and Climate

Additional Staff: Ashok Singh, Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory; Kuldip Kumar, Anita Thompson, and David Thoma, Department of Soil, Water, and Climate, University of Minnesota


USGS-WRRI 104G National Grants Competition

Project Duration:

September 2001 - September 2003


Report (PDF)

The objective of this research is to quantify the effects of liquid swine manure application on antibiotic and nutrient (N and P) losses via surface runoff and subsurface drainage under a conventional (moldboard plowing) and a conservation (chisel plowing) tillage system. The field experiment is set up at the University of Minnesota Southwest Research and Outreach Center, Lamberton, Minnesota.

Assessing the Impact of Arsenic on Upper-Midwestern Dairy Operations

Assessing the Impact of Arsenic on Upper-Midwestern Dairy Operations

Project Staff:

Vince Crary, Minnesota Extension, Otter Tail County; Barb Liukkonen, U of M Water Resources Center; Jim Linn, Department of Animal Science, U of M; Mike Murphy, College of Veterinary Medicine, U of M; and Mindy Erickson, Department of Civil Engineering, U of M


calfIf dairy cows drink water containing high levels of arsenic, will milk laced with arsenic end up in cheese, butter, milk and yogurt? A group of Otter Tail County dairy farmers posed this question to their local Extension educator, Vince Crary, back in 2003. When a 1999 Minnesota Department of Health study detected high levels of naturally-occuring arsenic in some domestic wells in western Minnesota, water treatment programs and alternate sources were recommended to families to minimize human exposure to arsenic.But that study didn't answer the dairy question, so Crary called his colleagues at the University of Minnesota (U of M).

The U of M mobilized a multi-disciplinary team of researchers who worked together to secure external funding and design a research protocol. Funding came from the Great Lakes Regional Water Program, as well as from the U of M College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences' Rapid Response Funds.

Water from over 100 wells in Otter Tail and surrounding counties was sampled. Producers with elevated arsenic levels were invited to participate in the study. Water, feed, and forage were sampled to identify potential sources of arsenic.

cows in a barnIn humans, hair, fingernails, urine, and blood are useful indicators of arsenic exposure. No indicators had previously been identified to assess whether cattle exposed to arsenic in drinking water were absorbing it into their systems or experiencing any ill effects from exposure. Hair, hooves, blood, and urine from 5-7 cows on each of the study farms were analyzed for arsenic. Most hair, hoof, and blood samples did not contain arsenic, but arsenic levels in urine correlated well with the level of arsenic in the drinking water supply - making it a good bio-indicator of arsenic exposure.

The research team determined that arsenic does not transfer into milk or cheese, even from cattle exposed to arsenic at 10 times the human drinking water standard.

Well owners were given all the results from their water tests, which included measurements of 27 different constituents (including arsenic, of course). Most owners had never had their well water tested for arsenic and many were very surprised at the results. 51% of the 116 wells tested (in areas where arsenic was expected) had arsenic levels greater than the 10 ppb recommended by the USEPA for safe drinking water.

Several of the farmers installed water treatment units to reduce their exposure to arsenic in drinking water and protect their family’s health.

During 2005 and 2006, the team held five public meetings to inform study participants, other producers, veterinarians and June 12, 2007 was – and is – paramount, yet participants were informed about their own herds throughout the study. Results will be submitted to a peer-reviewed journal in 2007.

Bioavailable P Credits in Payment for Pounds Program

Bioavailable P Credits in Payment for Pounds Program

Project Staff:

Principal Investigators: Dave Mulla, Professor, Department of Soil, Water, and Climate; and Patrick L. Brezonik, Professor, Department of Civil Engineering


Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

Project Duration:

July 1998 - June 1999


The objectives of this project were to i) determine the relationship between soil physical and chemical characteristics and desorbable phosphorus for soils of the Minnesota River basin, ii) determine the relationship between phosphorus sorption saturation, soil physical and chemical characteristics, and dissolved phosphorus in runoff for soils of the Minnesota River basin, and iii) determine the relationship between bioavailability of phosphorus, soil physical and chemical characteristics, and phosphorus sorption capacity for soils of the Minnesota River basin.

Characterizing the Fate of Nitrogen Feriltilizer to Improve Nitrogen Use Efficiency in Irrigated Potato Production

Characterizing the Fate of Nitrogen Feriltilizer to Improve Nitrogen Use Efficiency in Irrigated Potato Production

Project Staff:

Carl Rosen, Professor, Department of Soil, Water, and Climate; Michael Russelle, Professor, Department of Soil, Water, and Climate; and Satish Gupta, Professor, Department of Soil, Water, and Climate


USGS-WRRI 104B/ CAIWQ Competitive Grants Program

Project Duration:

March 1999 - February 2000


Potato crops in central Minnesota are highly dependent upon nitrogen fertilizers. These fertilizers are highly soluble, and nitrate leaching into the groundwater is high. Carl Rosen, Michael Russelle, and Satish Gupta were awarded a grant to evaluate the efficiency of urea-based POC N fertilizers in reducing nitrate, to increase tuber yield and quality in a glacial outwash soil under irrigated potato production in central Minnesota, and to determine the fate and recovery of N from POC urea in comparison to conventional urea fertilizers using the 15N-enrichment method.

Conservation Applications of LiDAR

Conservation Applications of LiDAR

Project description:

This website provides access to information about and free on-line training modules for use of LiDAR digital elevation data in soil and water conservation applications.

LiDAR, Light Detection and Ranging, is the application of laser reflectance to measure distance to an object or surface. In Minnesota and a growing number of other states, LiDAR equipment mounted on aircraft has been used to provide high resolution digital elevation data for the entire state or portions of the state. LiDAR data, including derivatives like contour maps, digital elevation models, hillshade projections and others are assisting with a wide range of natural resource conservation applications.

Information about and access to Minnesota data is available at the Minnesota Geospatial Information Office. Access to the training modules is provided in the sections below.

Online Learning Resources

2012 Training for GIS and CAD Users

The University of Minnesota Water Resources Center coordinated six training modules on conservation applications of LiDAR between March and August 2012. Modules were taught as a half- or full-day workshop at several locations around Minnesota. Workshop developers and instructors are experts from the University of Minnesota, MN Department of Natural Resources, MN Board of Water and Soil Resources, and US Natural Resources Conservation Service.

No more hands-on training sessions are scheduled. Additional sessions may be considered if requested by a specific user group. If interested, see contact information below under "Further information."

Audience and Prerequisites

The workshops were designed for GIS and CAD users who address natural resource issues. Watershed Districts, Soil and Water Conservation Districts, counties, cities, not-for-profit organizations, private firms, and state and federal agencies were the target audience.

Before attending any of the workshops, participants were expected to have an intermediate skill level with ArcGIS application, including and not limited to importing and managing files and layers, processing geographic data, and a general understanding of raster data processing and management.

The "Basics" module was required before taking any of the other modules. The "Hydrology" module was required before taking the "Wetland Mapping" module.

Workshop Topics

101 Basics of Using LiDAR Data (Prerequisite: Intermediate skill with ArcGIS)

  • Module developed by: Joel Nelson, UM Dept of Soil Water and Climate
  • How data is collected
  • Data properties, coordinate systems, accuracy
  • Identifying and managing errors
  • Where and how to get data
  • File management, file formats, data types
  • Software platforms
  • How to display data
  • Contour

201 Terrain analysis (Prerequisite: Basics of Using LiDAR Data)

  • Module developed by: Joel Nelson (UM Dept of Soil Water and Climate)
  • Calculating and interpreting terrain attributes (e.g.: hillshade, slope, slope shape, aspect, flow accumulation), and integrating ancillary data.

202 Hydrologic applications (Prerequisite: Basics of Using LiDAR Data)

  • Module developed by: Joel Nelson (UM Dept of Soil Water and Climate), Sean Vaughn (MN DNR), Pete Cooper (USDA-NRCS), Peter Mead (USDA-NRCS)
  • Hydrologic conditioning (culverts), floodplain mapping, watershed delineation, delineating inundation areas, depression analysis.

203 Engineering applications

  • Module developed by: Ann Johnson (UM Dept of Civil Engineering), Lea Holter (USDA-NRCS), Karen Bonde (BWSR)
  • Using LiDAR data in AutoCAD, AutoDesk, and Civil 3D. Linking LiDAR and survey data, siting conservation structures, pre-design, stream profiles.

204 Forestry and ecological applications (Prerequisite: Basics of Using LiDAR Data)

  • Module developed by: Paul Bolstad and Andrew Jenks (UM Dept. of Forest Resources)
  • Participants will learn techniques for using LiDAR-derived data to estimate tree heights and canopy density. The instructor will describe the process for combining these metrics with field plot data to estimate woody vegetation and woody biomass.

301 Wetland mapping (Prerequisites: Basics of Using LiDAR Data and Hydrologic Applications)

  • Module developed by: Joe Knight (UM Dept. of Forest Resources)
  • Mapping wetlands using LiDAR-derived topographical information. Terrain indices will be computed from Digital Elevation Modules, showing how water flows and ponds on the landscape, which indicates where conditions may be sufficient to allow for wetland formation. Methods to discriminate topographically wet non-wetlands from actual wetlands will be introduced.

Links and Resources


LiDAR conference
Conservation Applications of LiDAR, a Conference, Rochester, MN June 2009. Agenda and Powerpoint presentations. Includes applications in terrain analysis, conservation practice design, drainage system redesign, soil survey, engineering with CADD, and critical area identification.

LiDAR Applications Workshops
North Dakota, February & March 2010. Agenda and Powerpoint presentations. Includes applications in watershed delineation, precision agriculture, engineering, conservation practice planning, terrain analysis, and soil survey.

Training videos
Training videos for Terrain Analysis, Department of Soil, Water and Climate, University of Minnesota.

Contacts: Conservation Applications of LiDAR (.pdf)

LiDAR Workshop Training Materials
Conservation Applications of LiDAR Slides and Videos

Project Staff:

Ann Lewandowski, Project Coordinator,, 612-624-6765
Les Everett, Project Manager,, 612-625-6751


This project was funded by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund (as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources, LCCMR). Read the project summary and final report.

Reports and Publications:

This web site provides links to information about specific applications. We invite those with information about additional conservation applications to email descriptions and links to: Les Everett, University of Minnesota Water Resources Center,

Using Selective Drainage Methods to Extract Continuous Surface Flow from 1-meter Lidar-Derived Digital Elevation Data.
Abstract of a paper presented at Remote Sensing and Hydrology 2010 Symposium, Jackson Hole, WY

Sensitivity of Modeled Watershed Attributes and Hydrological Outputs to DEM Spatial Resolution.
Abstract of a paper presented at Remote Sensing and Hydrology 2010 Symposium, Jackson Hole, WY

Conservation Practice Planning Using LiDAR Data. Software from Agren:

Staking Terraces Online: A Terrace Layout Program. Poster 56 at annual conference of the Soil and Water Conservation Society, 2010. filelibrary/10ac/Conservation_Innovation_Grants_Show_4E0F581DBF4DD.pdf

Locating Potential Sites for Nutrient Interception Practices in a Tile-Drained Watershed Using Lidar Data. Mark Tomer1, David James1, Jared Bean1, Brian Gelder2 and Thomas Moorman1, (1)USDA-ARS National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment, Ames, IA, (2)Iowa State University, Ames, IA. American Society of Agronomy Annual Meetings, November 2010. Abstract:

Terrain Control on Soil Organic Carbon Distribution in Loess Soils with Varying Land Cover, Poster presented at the 2010 annual fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union 
Brent Dalzell, Cinzia Fissore, Ed Nater, Kyungsoo Yoo (UMN dept. of Soil, Water, and Climate)

Variable Width Filter Strips Designed with Terrain Analysis. Thomas Mueller, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY and Michael Dosskey, USDA Forest Service, Lincoln, NE

Modeling Conservation Practices with RUSLE2. Seth Dabney1, Daniel Yoder2 and Dalmo A. N. Vieira1, (1) P.O. Box 1157, USDA-ARS, Oxford, MS (2) University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN. Abstract:

Effects of DEM resolution and source on soil erosion modelling: a case study using the WEPP model. Xinxin Zhang,, Kang-Tsung Chang2 and Qiong Wu, Joan3.Abstract:

Estimating water erosion and sediment yield using GIS, RULSE, and SEDD. C. Fernandez, J.Q. Wu, D.K. McCool, and C.O. Stockle. Abstract and Full Text (.pdf)

Gully erosion modelling and landscape response in the Mbuluzi River catchment of Swaziland. Aleksey Sidorchuka, Michael Märker, Sandro Morettic and Giuliano Rodolfid. Abstract and Full Text (.pdf)

Comparison of gully erosion estimates using airborne and ground-based LiDAR on Santa Cruz Island, California. Perroy, Ryan L. Bookhagen, Bodo. Asner, Gregory. Chadwick, Oliver. Abstract (.pdf)

Effects of DEM Source and Resolution on WEPP Hydrologic and Erosion Simulation: A Case Study of Two Forest Watersheds in Northern Idaho. Zhang, J. Wu, J.Q. Chang, K. Elliot, W. J. Dun, S. Abstract (.pdf)

Topographic modelling of soil moisture conditions: a comparison and verification of two models. Murphy, P.N.C., Ogilvie, J. and Arp, P. Abstract (.pdf)

Factors controlling the spatial distribution of soil piping erosion on loess-derived soils: A case study from central Belgium. Verachtert, E. Van Den Eeckhaut, M. Poesen, J. Deckers, J. Abstract and full text (.pdf)

Identifying critical agricultural areas with three-meter LiDAR elevation data for precision conservation. J.C. Galzki, A.S. Birr, and D.J. Mulla.
Jl Soil and Water Conservation 2011 66(6):423-430.

Improved indexes for targeting placement of buffers of Hortonian runoff. M.G. Dosskey, Z. Qiu, M.J. Helmers, and D.E. Eisenhauer.
Jl Soil and Water Conservation 2011 66(6):362-372.