Beyond The Plains – Modeling Non-Point Source Pollution in The Utrata Watershed In Poland

By Walt Foster

Being in the middle of the United States, one would think there were few opportunities to get involved with activities beyond our country’s borders.  But with the breakup of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s I had an opportunity to assist EPA’s Office of International Affairs because of our region’s particular expertise with spatial science and agricultural. 

 In cooperation with Iowa State University, and funded by a grant from the Marie Curie Foundation, I worked on a project in the Utrata watershed outside Warsaw, Poland. The project involved development of a modeling methodology to support agricultural watershed management which could be adapted to other rural watersheds throughout Poland.



We used the Agricultural Non-Point Source Pollution (AGNPS) model, a cell-based runoff model widely used in the U.S. to predict the effects of various land management strategies on nutrient and sediment runoff in small to medium sized agricultural watersheds.      

The inputs to the model included such information as topography, soils, hydrography, and land use, while outputs were predicted nutrient and sediment loads.  This model allowed identification of locations where a high potential for non-point source runoff existed, as well as the ability to model the results if various land management practices were employed to reduce runoff.   

At the time this was particularly challenging as data was much more difficult to come by than it is today, processing was more difficult because of hardware and software limitations.  

The completed model ultimately enabled watershed managers in Poland to rapidly target non-point source problem areas and evaluate land management practices for their potential impact on these target areas. The model also encouraged the development of water policy that supported sustainable development in rural areas of Poland.

Over the last twenty years the tools, techniques, and information have improved, but the experiences in both the U.S. and Western European have continued to show that that a management approach that integrates social, economic, and environmental processes at the watershed scale is often the most effective approach to dealing with water quality issues.  You can order a free copy of EPA’s Handbook for Developing Watershed Plans to Restore and Protect Our Waters from the National Service Center for Environmental Publications (NSCEP). Contact NSCEP at 800-490-9198 or by e-mail, You can also download the Handbook here.

Walt Foster has been with the GIS program in EPA Region 7 since its inception except for an hiatus during which he served as the NEPA section chief and worked with EPA’s Office of International Affairs on environmental projects in eastern Europe.  More recently he worked on a series of projects with a number of cooperating agencies and NGOs designed to characterize the ecological state of Region 7 and identify priority ecological resources for regional programs to use in their planning and response activities.