Flood Risk Reduction from Agricultural Best Management Practices

Best management practices (BMPs) play an important role in improving impaired water quality from conventional row crop agriculture. In addition to reducing nutrient and sediment loads, BMPs such as fertilizer management, reduced tillage, and cover crops could alter the hydrology of agricultural systems and reduce surface water runoff. While attention is devoted to the water quality benefits of BMPs, the potential co‐benefits of flood loss reduction are often overlooked. This study quantifies the effects of selected commonly applied BMPs on expected flood loss to agricultural and urban areas in four Iowa watersheds. The analysis combines a watershed hydrologic model, hydraulic model outputs, and a loss estimation model to determine relationships between hydrologic changes from BMP implementations and annual economic flood loss. The results indicate a modest reduction in peak discharge and economic loss, although loss reduction is substantial when urban centers or other high‐value assets are located downstream in the watershed. Among the BMPs, wetlands, and cover crops reduce losses the most. The research demonstrates that watershed‐scale implementation of agricultural BMPs could provide benefits of flood loss reduction in addition to water quality improvements.