Click here to view the entire article and view a photo gallery of NAEW compiled by the Tribune. The USDA Agricultural Research Service's fiscal year 2012 budget proposes closing the North Appalachian Experimental Watershed (NAEW) in White Eyes Township, Ohio, after Oct. 1, an Ohio newspaper reports.

For more than 70 years, the lab has studied issues surrounding drinking water contaminants, improved food production and safe fishing and swimming conditions.

However, the USDA Agricultural Research Service fiscal year 2012 budget proposes closing it and nine other research stations around the country after Oct. 1.

If the budget is passed by federal legislators as it stands, the 75-year-old facility could be closed and the 12 employees laid off. That would interrupt data that's been collected continuously for more than 70 years about the effect of agricultural and other practices on water quality and soil nutrients.

Useful Research

Research at NAEW already established removing more than 25% of corn residue after harvesting no-till farmland will result in carbon erosion, said Dr. Jim Bonta, research leader and hydraulic engineer at the facility.

The study was done to see how much of the plant could be removed and converted to ethanol without losing the benefits of no-till farming.

The NAEW was created in 1935 by Congress, one of three in the United States. At the time the Great Plains region was suffering from the Dust Bowl, an environmental disaster created by severe drought coupled with decades of extensive farming without crop rotation, fallow fields, cover crops or other techniques to prevent erosion.

One of the first land-management practices investigated was an intensive study on the effects of crop rotations on steep watersheds with different soils. These early studies contributed to the development of the no-till concept for farming steep lands to reduce erosion and runoff.

No-till farming has been investigated continuously across 48 years at the NAEW, with the current emphasis on effects on soil quality, carbon sequestration, and crop residue removal for biofuel production.

Data from Coshocton was included in the original development of the "curve number" method, a method for estimating runoff which is used worldwide.

Watershed investigations at the NAEW have included effects of conservation tillage, sustainability of agricultural practices, filter-sock studies, herbicide and nutrient management, pasture management, coal mining and reclamation, and urbanization on hydrology and water quality.

Other studies conducted throughout the history of the NAEW include those on rain gauges, soil carbon, evapotranspiration, precipitation simulation, ground-water recharge, curve numbers, water and chemical movement through macropores, hydraulics, watershed modeling and instrumentation development.

The original objectives were to address problems of flooding and erosion from farmland. However, during the last 40 years, pesticide and nutrient movement in runoff from fields and into groundwater have become important new issues for which the NAEW has tested management practices.

"New issues come up all the time that are beyond the objectives for when this facility was built," Bonta said.

U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, whose district includes Coshocton, said he supports keeping the facility open.