April 10, 2009

Project Will Monitor Gulf Pollution From Farm Runoff

Bill Deutsch, of Auburn University, has launched a new project that is aimed at reducing farm runoff that has become a driving force behind water pollution in the Gulf of Mexico.

The $300,000 project, funded by the US Environmental Protection Agency, will combine the efforts of colleagues in Veracruz, Mexico as a part of a three-year project to monitor pollution levels of water flowing into the Gulf.

As a result of the study, Deutsch and colleagues hope to determine new methods that will halt the rate of pollution driven by livestock producers in Alabama and Veracruz.

"You have got to start with some level of awareness," said Deutsch, co-founder of the Alabama Water Watch program and is director of Auburn-based Global Water Watch.

As a part of the project, Deutsch told AFP that at least 20 middle and high school students in Alabama and Veracruz will become certified in water monitoring. The volunteers will conduct water tests from the streams on a regular basis.

Deutsch said the project will try "to get 'uplanders,' including livestock farmers, teachers and citizen water monitors, more aware of how nutrients come to the Gulf from great distances, and that land-use management makes a big difference."

Runoffs from many of the nation's farms feed into the Mississippi River Basin. The runoff from farms consists of nitrogen and phosphorus pollutants from fertilizers, most of which eventually finds its way to the Gulf, where it contributes to an 8,000-square-mile area known as the "dead zone" off the Louisiana and Texas coasts.

U.S. Geological Survey research hydrologist Dale M. Robertson of Middleton, Wis. told AFP that flooding and sewage treatment plants also cause the pollution of the Gulf.

"You can't just go after agriculture. It's a full suite of things," he said.

But environmentalists claim that the increased effort for corn production in the US due to the demand for biofuels has made water quality worse within the states and the Gulf.

Several methods are being considered. Deutsch said he recommends a streamside buffer zone of vegetation in pastures that can capture nutrients and pathogens before they reach runoffs headed directly to the Gulf.

His project is part of the Gulf of Mexico Alliance of all five US Gulf states.

According to AFP: "Each of the five has a priority area: Alabama is focused on education and outreach; Florida on water quality for beaches and shellfish beds; Louisiana on wetland and coastal conservation and restoration, Texas on identifying and characterizing Gulf habitats; and Mississippi on reductions in nutrient inputs to coastal ecosystems. Mississippi and Louisiana also share the assignment of coastal community resilience."


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