Plot-, farm-, and watershed-scale effects of coffee cultivation in runoff and sediment production in western Puerto Rico.

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Journal of environmental management, ISSN: 1095-8630, Vol: 202, Issue: Pt 1, Page: 126-136

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Ramos-Scharrón, Carlos E; Figueroa-Sánchez, Yasiel
Elsevier BV
Environmental Science
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article description
The combination of a topographically abrupt wet-tropical setting with the high level of soil exposure that typifies many sun-grown coffee farms represents optimal conditions for high erosion rates. Although traditionally considered as a main cause for water resource degradation, limited empirical evidence has existed to document its true contribution. This study relies on plot-scale experimental results conducted in western Puerto Rico to assess the impact of cultivated surfaces and farm access roads on runoff and sediment production from the plot to the farm and watershed scales. Results show that unsurfaced and graveled road surfaces produce one- to two-orders of magnitude more per unit area runoff than cultivated lands. Similarly, erosion rates from unsurfaced roads are about 102 g m per cm of rainfall and these are two-orders of magnitude greater than from actively cultivated surfaces. Mitigation practices such as uncompacting road surfaces by ripping and gravel application reduce onsite erosion rates to 0.6% and 8% of unsurfaced conditions, respectively. At the farm scale, coffee farms are estimated to produce sediment at a rate of 12-18 Mg ha yr, and roads are undoubtedly the dominant sediment source responsible for 59-95% of the total sediment produced. The costs associated to ameliorating erosion problems through road graveling are high. Therefore, a combined approach that treats road erosion onsite with one that traps sediment before it reaches river networks is the viable solution to this problem.