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ARS Benchmark Watershed Studies

About the Studies

In 14 benchmark watersheds, the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) is conducting in-depth studies that will help to validate physical-process models used for the National Assessment component of the Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP). ARS has been conducting research on most of the 14 benchmark watersheds for a considerable period of time and anticipates that research and assessments in these watershed will be continued over many years.

ARS is also conducting research for CEAP in some of the Special Emphasis Watersheds selected by the Natural Resources Conservation Service to address specific resource concerns such as manure management from animal feeding operations and water use and conservation on irrigated cropland.

ARS CEAP Homepage


ARS makes data from their CEAP Watershed Studies available through an on-line database, Sustaining the Earth’s Watersheds Agricultural Research Data System (STEWARDS). Meteorological, hydrological and water quality data can be downloaded by users who register with the site.


The National Agricultural Library maintains a dynamic bibliography cataloging all watershed studies from 2003 to the present.


ARS Watershed Assessment Study Plan, October 2004 (PDF; 4 MB)
The ARS CEAP plan describes the five specific research objectives and plans of the first five years of what is expected to be a much longer project. The objectives are:

  • Develop and implement a web-based data system to organize, document, manipulate, and compile climate, water, soil, land-management, and socioeconomic data from ARS research watersheds for assessment of conservation practices and other hydrologic analyses. The system is called STEWARDS: Sustaining the Earth's Watersheds, Agricultural Research Data System.
  • Measure and quantify water quality, water quantity, soil quality, and ecosystem effects of conservation practices at the watershed scale in a variety of hydrologic and agronomic settings.
  • Validate models and quantify uncertainties of model predictions at multiple scales by comparing predictions of water quality to measured water, soil and land management effects of conservation practices.
  • Develop and apply policy-planning tools to aid selection and placement of conservation practices to optimize profits, environmental quality, and conservation practice efficiency.
  • Develop and verify regional watershed models that quantify environmental outcomes of conservation practices in major agricultural regions.

In addition, ARS will provide quality assurance/quality control guidelines for methods and procedures to be used for data collection and analysis in the benchmark watersheds.


The Current Research Information System (CRIS) is USDA's documentation and reporting system for ongoing and recently completed research and education projects.

Benchmark Watersheds Location
Beasley Lake Bibliography (Articles)
Bibliography (Books)
Fact Sheet (PDF; 1.9 MB)
Poster (PDF; 8.1 MB)
Influence of Integrated Watershed-scale Agricultural Conservation Practices on Lake Water Quality, Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, April 2014 (PDF; 1.1 MB)
Watershed Description (PDF; 0.3 MB)
Choptank River Bibliography (Articles)
Bibliography (Books)
ARS Chesapeake Bay Research Intensifies, Agricultural Research, August 2010 (PDF; 0.3 MB)
Chesapeake Bay Cleanup Revs Up!, Agricultural Research, August 2010 (PDF; 0.2 MB)
Choptank River Watershed Project Overview, June 2007 (PDF; 1.3 MB)
Using Remote Sensing to Describe Nutrient Uptake by Cover Crops on Maryland's Eastern Shore, June 2007 (PDF; 0.4 MB)
Innovative Tools for Mapping Forested Wetlands in the Choptank River Watershed, May 2007 (PDF; 0.7 MB)
Goodwater Creek Bibliography (Articles)
Bibliography (Books)
Validating the Soil Vulnerability Index for a Claypan Watershed, Catena, April 2016
How to Build Better Agricultural Conservation Programs to Protect Water Quality: Chapter 15. Goodwater Creek Watershed, Missouri, August 2012 (PDF; 2.6 MB)
Goodwin Creek Bibliography (Articles)
Fact Sheet (PDF; 1.2 MB)
Poster (PDF; 4.6 MB)
Watershed Description (PDF; 0.2 MB)
Leon River Bibliography (Articles)
Bibliography (Books)
Fact Sheet (PDF; 1.7 MB)
Poster (PDF; 5.6 MB)
Watershed Description (PDF; 0.1 MB)
Little River Bibliography (Articles)
Bibliography (Books)
Fact Sheet (PDF; 2.6 MB)
Poster (PDF; 5.9 MB)
Watershed Description (PDF; 0.1 MB)
How to Build Better Agricultural Conservation Programs to Protect Water Quality: Chapter 10. Little River Experimental Watershed, Georgia, August 2012 (PDF; 4.1 MB)
Little River Ditches   Arkansas
Lower Saint Francis   Arkansas
Mahantango Creek Bibliography (Articles)
Mahantango Creek Watershed
Pasture Systems & Watershed Management Research Unit (PDF; 3.3 MB)
North Walnut Creek Bibliography (Articles)
Bibliography (Books)
Fact Sheet (PDF; 1.9 MB)
Poster (PDF; 6.8 MB)
Watershed Description (PDF; 0.1 MB)
Riesel Riesel Watershed (PDF; 1.1 MB) Texas
St. Joseph River Bibliography (Articles)
Fact Sheet (PDF; 1.2 MB)
Poster (PDF; 4.2 MB)
Press Release (Jan. 30, 2006)
St. Joseph River CEAP Watershed Update, May 2005 (PDF; 3.1 MB)
Watershed Description (PDF; 0.1 MB)
Salt River / Mark Twain Bibliography (Articles)
Bibliography (Books)
Fact Sheet (PDF; 3.1 MB)
Poster (PDF; 4.6 MB)
Watershed Description (PDF; 0.1 MB)
South Fork of the Iowa River Bibliography (Articles)
Fact Sheet (PDF; 2.2 MB)
Poster (PDF; 6.2 MB)
Watershed Description (PDF; 0.1 MB)
Topashaw Creek Bibliography (Articles)
Bibliography (Books)
Fact Sheet (PDF; 1.5 MB)
Poster (PDF; 5.5 MB)
Watershed Description (PDF; 0.1 MB)
Town Brook Bibliography (Articles)
Fact Sheet (PDF; 3.0 MB)
Poster (PDF; 5.6 MB)
Watershed Description (PDF; 0.1 MB)
New York
Upper Big Walnut Creek Bibliography (Articles)
Fact Sheet (PDF; 2.0 MB)
Poster (PDF; 5.7 MB)
Watershed Description (PDF; 0.1 MB)
Upper Washita River Bibliography (Articles)
Fact Sheet (PDF; 3.7 MB)
Poster (PDF; 5.2 MB)
Spatial Considerations in Wet and Dry Periods for Phosphorus in Streams of the Fort Cobb Watershed, United States, Journal of the American Water Resources Association, 49 ( 4 ) pp. 908 - 922, August 2013
USGS Project--Sources and Impacts of Nutrients, January 2006
Watershed Description (PDF; 0.1 MB)
Upper Snake Rock Bibliography (Articles) Idaho

Watershed Assessment Study Annual Meeting

Principal scientific investigators from each of the USDA-ARS watersheds meet annually with other CEAP scientists to share technical reports and other information from the 14 ARS Benchmark Watershed studies and other relevant research.

2006 Annual Meeting

2005 Annual Meeting