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Working Lands Watershed Restoration Program

Program Overview

BWSR has completed a feasibility study and plan for a Working Lands Watershed Restoration Program – a program that would provide incentives for landowners to plant perennial and cover crops that will improve water quality. The report, posted below, includes an overview of promising crops and livestock enterprises, including perennial grasses and winter annual cover crops that keep roots in the soil and vegetation on the land throughout the year, improving soil health and wildlife habitat, storing carbon, and capturing excess nitrogen. Many of these crops can be grown for food or beverage production, grazed, used for livestock feed and bedding, or processed for applications such as bio-jet fuel, bio-based packaging, and renewable chemicals.

The study was directed by the 2016 Minnesota Legislature (Laws 2016, c. 189, s. 4) with the goal of improving water quality by increasing living cover on the landscape at a watershed scale.

BWSR coordinated this effort with stakeholders and other state agencies, including agricultural and resource conservation interests, commodity groups, watershed districts, soil and water conservation districts, the biofuels industry, landowners, researchers at the University of Minnesota, and the Departments of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Health, and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

BWSR will continue to work with partners and stakeholders to analyze water quality impacts, track the progress of crop development, and investigate emerging market opportunities. Updates will be posted to this page regularly.

Project Update, October 2018

Since completion of the feasibility study, BWSR staff are developing a framework for a pilot working lands program that could be implemented in selected watersheds and/or wellhead protection areas. Current research efforts include:

Supplemental Reports:

Environmental Initiative has produced a follow-up report that explores two aspects of the Working Lands effort:

Exploring Working Lands Watershed Restoration Opportunities

The Department of Natural Resources completed a modeling exercise in the Chippewa River - Shakopee Creek watershed, using the Gridded Subsurface Hydrological Analysis (GSSHA) model to assess the impacts of conversion of agricultural land to perennial and cover crops on 1) the volume of runoff; and 2) the amount of evapotranspiration produced by vegetation, in both the growing season and the non-growing season.  The model uses the same conversion scenario used in the Working Lands Watershed Restoration Feasibility Study: conversion of 30% of the marginal cropland in the watershed to a perennial crop, and introduction of a cover crop on 40% of the remaining cropland.

The results of the simulations indicate that these changes in land cover can reduce surface run-off by 10% to 27% in the non-growing season, when the ground would otherwise be fallow, and can increase evapotranspiration by an average of 130%.

Technical Memorandum: Shakopee Watershed Land Use Conversion


Meeting Notes


Forum on Working Lands for Grazing, Forage, and Feed, April 27, 2017 - click here for presentations

Forum on Market Opportunities for Cover Crops and Perennials, December 15, 2017

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Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources

520 Lafayette Road North, St. Paul, MN 55155 | (651) 296-3767 | Fax (651) 297-5615 | TTY (800) 627-3529

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