The goal of the present study was to assess the impact of selected soil protection measures on soil erosion and retention of rainwater in a 1·14 km2 watershed used for agriculture in the north-east of Austria. Watershed conditions under conventional tillage (CT), no-till (NT) and under grassland use were simulated using the Water Erosion Prediction Project (WEPP) soil erosion model. The period 1961–90 was used as a reference and results were compared to future Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scenarios A1B and A2 (2040–60).
The simulations for the NT and grassland options suggested runoff would decrease by 38 and 75%, respectively, under the current climatic conditions. The simulation results suggest that, under future climate scenarios, the effectiveness of the selected soil conservation measures with respect to runoff will be similar, or decreased by 16–53%.
The actual average net soil losses in the watershed varied from 2·57 t/ha/yr for conventional soil management systems to 0.01 t/ha/yr for grassland. This corresponds to a maximum average annual loss of about 0·2 mm, which is considered to be the average annual soil formation rate and therefore an acceptable soil loss. The current soil/land use does not exceed this limit, with most of the erosion occurring during spring time. Under future climate scenarios, the simulations suggested that CT would either decrease soil erosion by up to 55% or increase it by up to 56%. Under these conditions, the acceptable limits will partly be exceeded. The simulations of NT suggested this would reduce annual soil loss rates (compared to CT) to 0·2 and 1·4 t/ha, i.e. about the same or slightly higher than for NT under actual conditions. The simulation of conversion to grassland suggested soil erosion was almost completely prevented.
The selected soil conservation methods maintain their protective effect on soil resources, independent of the climate scenario. Therefore, with small adaptations, they can also be recommended as sustainable soil/land management systems under future climatic conditions.
However, based on the available climate scenarios, climate-induced changes in the frequency and intensity of heavy rainstorms were only considered in a limited way in the present work. As the general future trend indicates a strong increase of rainstorms with high intensity during summer months, the results of the present study may be too optimistic.