2017 Current Issue

Agricultural Soil and Water Conservation

This guide – Background and Resources for Community Research 3.0 – is your primary resource for preparing for this year’s Current Issue presentation. 

The official 2017_Mass_Envirothon_Current_Issue_Problem and Judging scoresheet

Many teams also pursue Community AwardsResearch and Action – as part of their work on the Current Issue.  This is recommended!

This page was last updated on 4/7/17.  Check through the spring for additional and updated materials.  For previous postings contact Will Snyder at wsnyder@umext.umass.edu


Local agriculture is booming in Massachusetts, from urban community gardens to rural orchards and pastures, from row crops to working forests.  Local garden, farm, and forest production can strengthen local economies – providing not only food and fiber, but also fostering community.

But all is not well.  More local agriculture also means more intensive use of local land and water resources, with the potential for resource depletion, pollution, and increased pressure on local ecosystems and biodiversity.  In addition, climate change is shifting the basic conditions for growing – bringing long term warming, short term weather volatility, and increased intensity in the water cycle that affect soil chemistry and ecology in fundamental ways.

Healthy soil and water resources provide essential ecosystem services for forest and farm production.  And well managed farms and forests can contribute in a variety of ways to preventing and reducing the effects of accelerating climate change.

How can we use land and water resources in ways that keep these essential resources healthy?  In particular, can we build healthy soils that ensure a supply of high quality food and fiber and at the same time protect our water resources and ecosystem future?

This year’s Envirothon teams will look at the essential, fundamental ecosystem services that soil and water provide, and at decisions and actions for the management and protection of this ecological foundation.

Science is an essential tool, helping us to understand both the workings of the natural systems we depend upon and the effects of our practices within those systems.  Understanding the science of soil and water will be an important part of preparing to respond to this year’s Current Issue problem.

To ensure that your Current Issue presentation is the best possible, your team should undertake a broad exploration:

  • Get to know the soil and water resources in your community in terms of their ecological functions and their value for working forests, farms, and gardens.
  • Assess the ecosystem services and “disservices” that our current land uses produce.
  • Get acquainted with the land use history of your community, and the effects of those uses on the soil, water, and the natural communities we find there now.
  • Get to know the specific pathways of the water cycle in your local ecosystem – soil moisture as well as streams, ponds, and groundwater – and the implications for growing things for human use.
  • Investigate the carbon cycle in your local ecosystems – particularly the importance of organic material for healthy soil.
  • Meet scientists who research the chemistry, physics, biology, and ecology of soil and water.
  • Meet natural resource managers and local officials who translate science into practical strategies for conserving soil and water resources.
  • Meet farmers, gardeners, and foresters whose livelihoods depend on soil and water conservation.
  • Become familiar with soil and water conservation best management practices; their purposes and implementation, and how they relate to management of wildlife, forest, and aquatic systems.
  • Use various kinds of maps to understand and explain soil and water problems and conservation options.
  • Consider how climate change is relevant to use of soil and water resources in your community.

Through this research, you will identify a soil and water conservation issue critical to your community, assess potential solutions, and make specific recommendations for action.


Additional Resources

See also: 2017 Current Issue resources suggested by NCF Envirothon

Presentations at workshops

Will Snyder, UMass Extension
Getting Started on Your Community Issue Research & Documenting Your EnviroTrek

Tom Akin, State Resource Conservationist, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
Healthy Soils Save the World

Hotze Wijnja, Environmental Chemist, Mass. Dept. of Agricultural Resources
Healthy Land – Healthy Water:  New State Regulations for the Use of Plant Nutrients

Christine E. Hatch, Extension Asst. Prof of Geosciences in Water Resources and Climate Change, UMass Amherst  Droughts_and_Floods_in_Massachusetts?  Now What?

Deborah Henson, Environmental Science Program Manager, UMass Amherst      Freshwater Wetlands in the Landscape: Their characteristics and functions