Project Helps Reduce Runoff

on a Dairy Farm

Runoff from dairy farms with high nutrient levels can cause algal blooms, but the Brickstead Dairy is working to reduce the amount of nutrients that enter surface water to protect water quality.


Fertilizer and manure runoff from farms is a major cause of poor water quality in the Great Lakes, especially in the Lower Fox River in Wisconsin. To address this issue, the Natural Resources Conservation Service is focusing Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding in the Lower Fox River watershed. In 2012, the program worked with farmers on over 20,000 acres of agricultural land. Nutrient management plans and cover crops on 4,000 acres have improved water quality, allowing aquatic life to return. One such farm, Brickstead Dairy, with the assistance of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, is installing grassed waterways, basins to control water and catch sediment, cover crops as well as a number of other practices that will prevent soil loss, reduce runoff, and improve water quality. Installation of these conservation practices will also greatly improve the soil health and soil quality on the farm.

Resource Challenges Addressed

  • High nutrient levels in the water
  • High sediment amounts in the water
  • Algal blooms fueled by nutrient runoff

Results and Accomplishments

Nutrient management plans on Brickstead Dairy are improving water quality, allowing aquatic life to return. Cover crops have been planted on 100 acres, which hold soil in place during the winter, further preventing sediment loss into nearby lakes and rivers. Over three miles of grassed waterways have been planted—these will slow the speed of runoff, allowing the water to slowly absorb into the soil and preventing any excess nutrients or sediment in the runoff from reaching streams. Edge-of-field and in-stream monitoring stations have been installed to measure the water quality improvements as a result of implementation of conservation practices.


A strip of grass between the farm field and a stream will help reduce polluted runoff.

Grassed waterways are a key practice to intercept runoff and trap sediment from cropland. The Brickstead Dairy will be installing over three miles of grassed waterways using Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding. Photo credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service.