K.R. Minks, B. Lowery, F.W. Madison, M.D. Ruark, D. Frame, T. Stuntebeck, and M. Komiskey

In recent years, agricultural runoff has received more attention as a major contributor to surface water pollution. This is especially true for the unglaciated area of Wisconsin, given this area’s steep topography, which makes it highly susceptible to runoff and soil loss. We evaluated the ability of an at-grade stabilization structure (AGSS), designed as a conservation practice to reduce the amount of overland runoff and suspended sediment transported to the surface waters of an agricultural watershed. Eight years of storm and baseflow data collected by the US Geological Survey–Wisconsin Water Science Center on a farm in west central Wisconsin were analyzed for changes in precipitation, storm runoff volume, and suspended sediment concentration before and after installation of an AGSS. The agricultural research site was designed as a paired watershed study in which monitoring stations were installed on the perennial streams draining both control and treatment watersheds. Linear mixed effects model analyses were conducted to determine if any statistically significant changes occurred in the water quality parameters before and after the AGSS was installed. Results indicated no significant changes (p = 0.51) in average event precipitation and runoff volumes before and after installation of the AGSS in either the treatment (NW) or control (SW) watersheds. However, the AGSS did significantly reduce the average suspended sediment concentration in the event runoff water (p = 0.02) in the NW from 972 to 263 mg L–1. In addition, particle size analyses, using light diffraction techniques, were conducted on soil samples taken from within the AGSS and adjacent valley and ridge top to determine if suspended sediments were being retained within the structure. Statistical analysis revealed a significantly (p < 0.001) larger proportion of clay inside the AGSS (37%) than outside (30%). These results indicate that the AGSS was successful in reducing the amount of suspended sediment transported to nearby surface waters. The cost of an AGSS can range from US$3,500 to US$8,000, depending on size. Thus, these structures provide a cheap and effective means of improving water quality in highly erosive landscapes.