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Water Quality

How Agroforestry Practices Improve Water Quality

Agroforestry practices are a proven strategy for providing clean water. Riparian forest buffers, for example, are one of the most important practices used for maintaining healthy streams. Trees protect water quality by intercepting non-point source pollutants, stabilizing stream banks, decreasing the frequency and intensity of flooding, and preventing sediment from entering waterways.

Filtering Contaminants

In areas dominated by agriculture, a major goal of efforts to improve water quality has been reducing the flow of nutrients into streams. Perennial vegetation removes nutrients and other chemicals via plant uptake and bacterial degradation of the pollutants. Tree root systems improve the cycling of nutrients, especially nitrogen, and also trap phosphorus and sediments. Agroforestry systems placed higher in the landscape can play this same role and thus reduce pressure on riparian forest buffers.

Sediment Reduction

Sediment loading and deposition are one of the most serious water quality problems globally. Trees filter sediment from stormwater runoff, reducing the amount of sediment entering streams and rivers. By slowing down the water, trees promote infiltration and reduce channel flow and gully formation.

Stabilize Streambanks

Trees along streams protect water quality by stabilizing stream banks. The roots of woody plants located along streams strengthen stream banks, reduce erosion and reduce sediment loss..

Improve Aquatic Habitat

Water temperature is a critical factor influencing aquatic ecosystems. Trees along streams and rivers shade water and moderate water temperature, thus allowing fish and other aquatic species to thrive. Large woody debris is critical for healthy aquatic habitat.

Reduce Flooding and Flood Damage

Reestablishing trees and shrubs in riparian areas can moderate water flows and reduce impacts of flooding. Waterbreaks are planned systems of woody buffers in floodplains that trap debris, reduce sand deposition, increase bank stability and reduce damage to roads and ditches. Woody buffers also allow greater capacity for temporary water storage and slow releases from heavy rains.

Information Sheets

  • Infosheet

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    How Can Agroforestry Help Landowners Adapt To Increased Rain Intensity?

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  • Infosheet

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    What Is A Riparian Forest Buffer?

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Brochures

Inside Agroforestry

  • Inside Agroforestry

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    Riparian Forest Buffer Apps" For Your Smart Farm"

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  • Inside Agroforestry

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    Small, But Mighty

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  • Inside Agroforestry

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    Breathe In. Okay, Now Breathe Out

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  • Inside Agroforestry

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    Water Quantity/quality: Half-full Or Half-empty Of What

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  • Inside Agroforestry

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    Green Infrastructure: Reconnecting Agriculture And Communitites

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  • Inside Agroforestry

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    Getting Buffers On The Ground: A Group Effort

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  • Inside Agroforestry

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    Summer 2000

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  • Inside Agroforestry

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    Fall 1997

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  • Inside Agroforestry

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    Summer 1994

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  • Inside Agroforestry

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    Summer 1993

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  • Inside Agroforestry

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    Fall 1993

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Agroforestry Notes

  • Agroforestry Note

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    Riparian Forest Buffers: An Agroforestry Practice

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  • Agroforestry Note

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    Biotechnical Streambank Protection

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  • Agroforestry Note

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    Planning Biotechnical Streambank Protection

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  • Agroforestry Note

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    Wastewater Management Using Hybrid Poplar

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  • Agroforestry Note

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    Waterbreaks: Managed Trees For The Floodplain

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  • Agroforestry Note

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    A Riparian Buffer Design For Cropland

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  • Agroforestry Note

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    Riparian Buffers For Agricultural Land

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  • Agroforestry Note

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    How To Design A Riparian Buffer For Agricultural Land

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Research

  • Research

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    13th North American Agroforestry Conference Proceedings

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  • Research

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    A Role For Agroforestry In Forest Restoration In The Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley

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  • Research

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    Indexes For Targetting Buffer Placement To Improve Water Quality

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  • Research

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    Biofuel Feedstock From Riparian Buffers: A Win-win For Climate And Water Quality

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  • Research

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    Enhancing Ecosystem Services: Designing For Multifunctionality

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  • Research

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    Connecting Landscape Fragments Through Riparian Zones

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  • Research

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    Comparative Water Use By Riparian Forest, Grass, And Crops In The Great Plains

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  • Research

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    Multiple Function Benefit – Cost Comparison Of Conservation Buffer Placement Strategies

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  • Research

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    Proceedings Of The ASA-CSA-SSSA International Annual Meetings

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  • Research

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    Indexes For Targeting Buffer Placement To Improve Water Quality

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  • Research

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    A Design Aid For Sizing Filter Strips Using Buffer Area Ratio

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  • Research

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    Improved Indexes For Targeting Placement Of Buffers Of Hortonian Runoff

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  • Research

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    The Role Of Riparian Vegetation In Protecting And Improving Chemical Water Quality In Streams

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  • Research

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    Riparian Forest Buffers: Building A Sustainable Bioenergy Future

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  • Research

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    Creatively Communicating Conservation Complexity

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  • Research

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    Colloque Aménagement D'une Zone Riveraine Multifonctionnelle: Pour Une Plus Grande Biodiversité En Milieu Agricole

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  • Research

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    From Dust Bowl To Mud Bowl

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  • Research

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    Methods To Prioritize Placement Of Riparian Buffers For Improved Water Quality

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  • Research

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    Building Bigger Better Buffers For Bioenergy

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  • Research

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    Buffer And Vegetative Filter Strips

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  • Research

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    A Design Aid For Determining Width Of Filter Strips

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  • Research

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    Modeling Runoff And Sediment Yield From A Terraced Watershed Using Wepp

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  • Research

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    Testing A Simple Field Method For Assessing Nitrate Removal In Riparian Zones

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  • Research

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    Riparian Buffer Design Guidelines For Water Quality And Wildlife Habitat Functions On Agricultural Landscapes In The Intermountain West

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  • Research

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    Using Soil Surveys To Target Riparian Buffers In The Chesapeake Bay Watershed

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  • Research

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    Managing Agricultural Landscapes For Environmental Quality: Strengthening The Science Base

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  • Research

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    Change In Filter Strip Performance Over Ten Years

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  • Research

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    Perennial Crops For Bio-fuels And Conservation

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  • Research

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    Developing And Extending Sustainable Agriculture: A New Social Contract

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  • Research

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    An Approach For Using Soil Surverys To Guide The Placement Of Water Quality Buffers

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  • Research

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    Establishing Conservation Buffers Using Precision Information

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  • Research

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    Precision Conservation In North America

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  • Research

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    Tool Time: Melding Watershed And Site Goals On Private Lands

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  • Research

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    Placement Of Riparian Forest Buffers To Improve Water Quality

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  • Research

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    Synthesis Of Design Guidelines And Experimental Data For Water Quality Function In Agricultural Landscaps In The Intermountain West

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  • Research

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    Toward Quantifying Water Pollution Abatement In Response To Installing Buffers On Crop Land

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  • Research

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    Flow Pathways And Sediment Trapping In A Field-scale Vegetative Filter

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  • Research

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    Modeling Sediment Trapping In A Vegetative Filter Accounting For Converging Overland Flow

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  • Research

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    Modeling Water And Sediment Trapping By Vegetated Filters Using VFSMOD: Comparing Methods For Estimating Infiltration Parameters

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  • Research

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    Channel Aggradation By Beaver Dams On A Small Agricultural Stream In Eastern Nebraska

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  • Research

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    Green-ampt Infiltration Parameters In Riparian Buffers

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  • Research

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    Wher Should Buffers Go? Modeling Riparian Habitat Connectivity In Northeast Kansas

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  • Research

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    A Long, Long Time Ago...

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  • Research

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    Computer-based Tools For Decision Support In Agroforestry: Current State And Future Needs

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  • Research

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    The Fourth P: Planning For Multi-purpose Riparian Buffers

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  • Research

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    Controlling Flooding And Water Pollution With Upland And Streamside Vegetation Systems

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  • Research

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    Hydrologic Routing Of Farm Runoff And Implications For Riparian Buffers

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  • Research

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    Agroforestry And GIS: Achieving Land Productivity And Environmental Protection

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  • Research

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    Integration Of Woody Buffers At Three Levels Of Spatial Scale In The Urban/rural Interface In Lincoln - Lancaster County, Nebraska

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  • Research

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    Assesment Of Concentrated Flow Through Riparian Buffers

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  • Research

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    Setting Priorities For Research On Pollution Reduction Functions Of Agricultural Buffers

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  • Research

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    Ecobelts: Reconnecting Agriculture And Communities - Case Studies

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  • Research

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    Ecobelts: Reconnecting Agriculture And Communities

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  • Research

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    Evaluation Of A Collaborative Model: A Case Study Analysis Of Watershed Planning In The Intermountain West

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  • Research

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    Landscape Scale Planning For Conservation Buffers In The Corn Belt

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  • Research

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    Planning For Multi-purpose Riparian Management

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  • Research

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    An Ecological Foundation For Temperate Agroforestry

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  • Research

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    Perspective: Agroforestry And Sustainability: Making A Patchwork Quilt

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  • Research

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    (1999) Filter Strip Performance And Processes For Different Vegetation, Widths, And Contaminants

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More Publications

  • More Publications

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    Green Infrastructure: Designing With Nature

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  • More Publications

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    Topeka - Sustainable Development: Moving Toward A Greener Community

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  • More Publications

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    Topeka: Urban/Rural Watershed Solutions

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https://www.fs.usda.gov/nac/topics/water-quality.php