A team of Texas AgriLife Research scientists and Texas AgriLife Extension Service specialists has received a $647,000 federal grant to evaluate the impacts of conservation practices within the Cowhouse Creek watershed in Central Texas.

“The purpose of our efforts will be to understand how specific conservation practices affect the watershed’s overall health and landscape,” said Dr. Bradford Wilcox, the AgriLife Research rangeland specialist who is the leading the project.

The three-year grant is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service. Counties included in the study are Hamilton, Coryell and Bell counties.

Primarily the study will test the impacts of conservation practices already supported by other federal programs in place.

“Results from this project will provide agencies and landowners with an understanding of how alternative conservation practices, timing of implementation and distribution of conservation efforts impact grazing lands and assist in achieving watershed health goals,” said Dr. Bill Fox, assistant professor with the Blacklands Research and Extension Center in Temple.

The Texas study is one of the first three projects in the U.S. funded through the Grazing land Conservation Effects Assessment Project grants program, which seeks to understand the impact of the hydrologic (water) cycle and conservation practices on watershed health. This may include understanding aspects such as soil characteristics and quality, plant communities and dynamics, and impacts on ecosystem services at the landscape scale.

The Cowhouse Creek research has three major objectives: determine the influence of land conservation practices on watershed health and functioning; examine socio-economic drivers and constraints of conservation; and implement an Extension outreach program that encourages and supports those conservation practices found to be most beneficial.

The watershed provides a rich set of previously collected data that will be analyzed to understand the benefits of previous conservation programs. These data will be utilized to conduct watershed scale computer simulations in an effort to better understand how practices can benefit natural resource management at the watershed scale.

“Successful watershed management and conservation is predicated upon a high degree of landowner participation in conservation programs,” said Dr. Urs Kreuter, associate professor in the ecosystem science and management department at Texas A&M. "The project will focus considerable energy on understanding what types of practices are of greatest value to landowners."

The outreach component of the project will be lead by Dr. Charles R. Hart, an AgriLife Extension range specialist in Stephenville. A critical component of the project, the outreach effort will focus on teaching landowners and land managers the effects of sound conservation practices at a watershed scale, effectively transferring science-based technology developed by this project.

“The funded project will lead to science-based, decision-making and management practices that improve the nation’s surface water and groundwater resources in agricultural, rural and urbanizing watersheds,” Wilcox said.