Agricultural Runoff Threatens Fresh Water

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Nutrients and chemicals from farms are ending up in streams, damaging ecology

Photo Sasabune Omakase Modified: Flickr/erin/CC 4.0

Scientists with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggest that agriculture could be damaging America’s aquatic ecosystems.

NPR reports that agricultural runoff could be contaminating rivers and lakes and lowering our water quality.  To test the country’s water for agricultural nutrients and pesticides, the EPA and U.S. Geological Survey teams are sending 36 scientists to approximately 100 streams between Nebraska and Ohio.

This testing will consider the effect that these contaminants may be having on native species of frogs, fish, algae, and insects. It will be the largest scale of runoff testing conducted to date in the U.S., and will cost both agencies over $6.5 million to conduct these tests.

Previously, less comprehensive studies of fresh water have found mercury, livestock hormones, and weed killer, all of which likely came from nearby farms.

While scientists say that farm runoff has been a problem for years, increasingly wet weather, especially during spring months, is exacerbating the issue and speeding up the rate of contamination. Unstable weather conditions are sapping nutrients from farmland and depositing them in ponds and streams where they can have an adverse effect on flora and fauna.

Animals and algae are not the only ones who could be affected by these changing waters; many humans source their drinking water from the very same streams that are currently under threat from runoff. 

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