Why Water Runoff from Farms is a Big Deal and What’s Being Done About It


Anya Alvarez | Contributor  

This summer, scientists from the from Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Geographical Survey will wade into about 100 streams from Ohio to Nebraska, testing for pesticides and nutrients used in farming, and its effects in the streams.

The reason behind scientists taking an interest in testing for these chemicals, is due to the rising concerns that water is being contaminated by agricultural runoff water pollution. With the the high productivity of the economy of agriculture, it has had the side effect of of harming the environment, particularly impairing water quality according the to EPA.

These tests can account for extremely small amounts of mercury, livestock hormones, and pesticides like weed killer.

Scientists believe that climate change is the leading cause of the large runoff of chemicals we are seeing due to the more inconsistent weather patterns we are seeing now. Last year, the drought prevented absorption of fertilizers, causing a extra load of of nutrients to flow into the midwest waterway, which will later find itself in the Gulf of Mexico. Experts fear the negative effects this will have on aquatic life.

For this year in particularly, it has been a very wet spring, allotting farmers short periods of time to apply pesticides and fertilizers when it’s dry. The intensity of the the rainfall creates a large amount of nutrient loss, and more runoff of these chemicals.

As more metropolitan areas raise concerns about drinking water safety though, it is imperative for scientists to further look into this. But others concerns raised by municipalities are the costs associated with treating contaminated water. And scientists also worry that consumers who no longer trust the quality of their tap water, will start buying more bottled water. For these reasons alone, consumers should invest in water filtration systems at home, which are financially and environmentally sustainable.

Besides studies being conducted, the EPA has also taken action by creating the WOTUS (Waters of United States), a federal provision, which was drawn off the Clean Water Act, that supersedes state regulatory agencies when the EPA feels that they have failed to meet expected requirements to protect water supplies. WOTUS is implemented to regulate agricultural runoff water pollution and discharges.

The use of WOTUS has come into place recently in the Des Moines Water Works Suit, which claims that 92 percent of the nitrates and 80 percent of the phosphorous is entering water from the farmland chemicals. This suit may take years to settle because of the difficulty of proving that contamination of water is mostly due to farmland chemicals. Another issue that needs to be resolved is determining if county governments, or state or federal governments should hold responsibility in controlling the levels of contamination in in local waters from farmlands.

Many farmers are concerned with government overreach through initiatives like WOTUS, but the EPA’s concern is weighing economic prosperity versus potable water.

One thing is for certain though: safe drinking water should be a right for anyone, no matter where that person lives. And if the government cannot ensure your drinking water is safe, then you should take matters in your own hands and try filtrate your own water.

The agricultural runoff effect studies from the from EPA and U.S. Geo Survey will be released in August.

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