On a day when an SUV was required to navigate the flooded roads to Bern Prewitt’s Mississippi Delta farm, officials with the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Environmental Quality and the Natural Resources Conservation Service traveled to Shaw, Miss., to get a first-hand look at how producers are recapturing that rainfall.

Prewitt’s newly installed tailwater recovery system is part of a pilot project by the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality to reduce nutrient load and improve water quality in the northern catchment area of the Porter Bayou watershed. The tailwater recovery system catches irrigation runoff from crop fields and rainfall, and then returns it to Prewitt’s irrigation system.

Porter Bayou is a 60,000-acre watershed that drops one-half-foot per mile for 215 miles, according to Kay Whittington, director of the Office of Land and Water Resources for the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality.

Prewitt’s tailwater recovery system recaptures 180 acres of irrigation runoff, bringing it into one nine-acreage storage area, where it is then re-used to irrigate about 180 acres of farmland. He uses a diesel irrigation pump to lift the water from the recovery system back to the field.

Whittington said, “Mississippi is one of only two states bordering both the Gulf and the Mississippi River, and Mississippi is the first state to enact nutrient reduction strategies. The first stage of the collaborative process, involving 31 different organizations, was completed in December of 2009.”

Following that process, the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality identified the Porter Bayou watershed as a priority area. It also is an area with an abundance of landowners employing strong conservation efforts, according to Whittington.

The project is supported with Clean Water Act, Section 319 funds. Assisting through the collection of data are Mississippi State University and the United States Geological Service.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Section 319 of the Clean Water Act concerns the agency’s nonpoint source management program. “Section 319 addresses the need for greater federal leadership to help focus state and local nonpoint source efforts. Under Section 319, states, territories and tribes receive grant money that supports a wide variety of activities including technical assistance, financial assistance, education, training, technology transfer, demonstration projects and monitoring to assess the success of specific nonpoint source implementation projects.”

Prior to the initiation of the pilot project, approximately 75 percent of Porter Bayou’s northern catchment was in best management practices, primarily pads and pipes. The next step for water quality improvement was to establish tailwater recovery systems for on-farm water storage, as well as two-stage ditches and low-grade weirs to reduce sediment and nutrient loads.

Whittington said, “We started monitoring the watershed in 2010 and are already seeing differences with substantially better water quality monitored in the northern section of the Porter Bayou watershed.”

Calling Porter Bayou’s northern catchment area a “Cadillac watershed for best management practices,” Whittington says the positive results being monitored are a testament to the voluntary implementation of best management practices by willing landowners.

Due to the success of the northern catchment area, additional areas have now been included in the pilot project and four monitored catchments in the Delta are recording reductions in nutrient load as well as increases in improved, best management practices.

Adds Richard Harrell, director of the office of pollution control at the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, “We’ve successfully brought together the science, the conservation and the economics because that’s what matters to farmers. We are poised to expand this program greatly in the Mississippi Delta.”

To read more about this issue, visit www.epa.gov/uswaters.