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Estimating the Long-Term Benefits and Costs of BMPs in an Agricultural Watershed

Published by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, St. Joseph, Michigan

Citation:  Paper number  042174,  2004 ASAE Annual Meeting . (doi: 10.13031/2013.16398) @2004
Authors:   Kelsi S. Bracmort, John G. Lee, Jane R. Frankenberger, Bernard A. Engel
Keywords:   Best management practices, cost-benefit analysis, economic analysis, water quality, long-term costs, Soil and Water Assessment Tool

Federal conservation agencies are recognizing the need to account for the millions of dollars spent nation-wide on conservation programs focused on implementing best management practices (BMPs), some of which have been in existence for decades. A cost-benefit analysis for many of these programs is difficult due to the limited water quality and cost data available, and because attempts to quantify the water quality benefits obtained from BMP implementation is problematic. A cost-benefit analysis was performed on a large watershed management project that installed hundreds of BMPs in the mid-1970s, the Black Creek Project. Water quality improvement for sediment and total phosphorus reduction due to BMP implementation was estimated in 2000 dollars using off-site benefit estimates, fertilizer nutrient costs and water quality trading values. The benefits received from the BMPs did not outweigh the costs for implementing and maintaining the BMPs. Benefits not captured in this economic analysis include lessons learned and used outside the watershed by the conservation community, gully erosion, erosion deposited within the watershed, nitrogen reduction, wildlife habitat improvement, human and aquatic ecosystem health, aesthetics, downstream impacts, intangible impacts and the needs of future generations. This study shows that the tools needed to compute an accurate comparison of benefits and costs concerning water quality are lacking. Economic analysis of conservation planning should continue, but should not be the sole determining factor when deciding if a conservation project is worthwhile.

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