A VSA-Based Strategy for Placing Conservation Buffers in Agricultural Watersheds

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39 Scopus citations


Conservation buffers have the potential to reduce agricultural nonpoint source pollution and improve terrestrial wildlife habitat, landscape biodiversity, flood control, recreation, and aesthetics, Conservation buffers, streamside areas and riparian wetlands are being used or have been proposed to control agricultural nonpoint source pollution. This paper proposes an innovative strategy for placing conservation buffers based on the variable source area (VSA) hydrology. VSAs are small, variable but predictable portion of a watershed that regularly contributes to runoff generation. The VSA-based strategy involves the following three steps: first, identifying VSAs in landscapes based on natural characteristics such as hydrology, land use/cover, topography and soils; second, targeting areas within VSAs for conservation buffers; third, refining the size and location of conservation buffers based on other factors such as weather, environmental objectives, available funding and other best management practices. Building conservation buffers in VSAs allows agricultural runoff to more uniformly enter buffers and stay there longer, which increases the buffer's capacity to remove sediments and nutrients. A field-scale example is presented to demonstrate the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of the within-VSA conservation buffer scenario relative to a typical edge-of-field buffer scenario. The results enhance the understanding of hydrological processes and interactions between agricultural lands and conservation buffers in agricultural landscapes, and provide practical guidance for land resource managers and conservationists who use conservation buffers to improve water quality and amenity values of agricultural landscape.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)299-311
Number of pages13
JournalEnvironmental Management
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2003

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology
  • Pollution


  • Benefit-cost analysis
  • Conservation buffers
  • Landscape planning
  • Variable source areas
  • Water quality


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