Protecting Water Quality from Agricultural Runoff
As humans learn and advance, they discover new ways to make necessary processes more sustainable. The agricultural sector contributes to climate change, with meat production producing high levels of greenhouse gasses. However, improved practices promise to mitigate the environmental impact.
One way to do so is by protecting water quality from agricultural runoff. Pesticides and fertilizers can harm other native species and contribute to problems like excessive nutrients. Animal feces can make water sources unfit for consumption and soil erosion makes farming harder while stripping vital nutrients away from crops. Here is a further exploration of agricultural runoff’s impact on the environment and seven techniques for minimizing hazards.
How Agricultural Runoff Impacts the Environment
Multiple factors impact soil quality, affecting the number of crops flourishing and their nutritional value. One such element is pH. Runoff from pesticides and fertilizers can create overly alkaline conditions where plants fail to thrive, leading to nutrient lockout. In other cases, imbalanced pH leads to an overabundance of some minerals. This results in nutrient burn.
Furthermore, animal feces as fertilizer can contaminate soils and local waterways when they pour into them. Many programs to improve water quality in developing nations focus on human waste. However, increasing evidence suggests that mismanagement of animal waste contributes to considerable sickness, especially in areas where domestic livestock may share close quarters with humans.
Finally, agricultural runoff directly contributes to climate change. Fertilizer runoff has more nitrous oxide from farms spilling into waterways. This chemical has a warming potential approximately 300 times greater than carbon dioxide — and humans need to act now to start cooling things down, as more extreme weather patterns have already displaced many.
Methods of Protecting Water Quality From Agricultural Runoff
How can farmers protect water quality from agricultural runoff and decrease their overall carbon footprint? Here are seven methods of keeping surrounding water and soil clean when engaging in farming activities.
Reducing Pesticide Use
Have you raised eyebrows at footage of people in HAZMAT suits applying pesticides to crops? If so, you might have assumed that anything requiring such protection can harm the environment — and you’re right.
Farmers can reduce pesticide use by planting various species, focusing on those resistant to native pests. They can also use companion planting, interspersing pest-deterrent plants, like marigolds, in between their crops. Natural predators, like ladybugs and nematodes, can control harmful species, like aphids, who find many agricultural products as delicious as humans do.
Managing Irrigation Systems
A broken irrigation line might not seem like a big deal. However, it can invite environmental catastrophe if it ceaselessly rinses fertilizers and pesticides from the field into nearby rivers and streams.
Farmers should maintain their irrigation systems, performing routine inspections. They should replace any broken heads or tubing immediately and adjust their use to minimize overages that can cause runoff to leak into surrounding areas.
Conservation tilling is any technique covering 30% or more of the surface with plants to decrease agricultural runoff. It also requires 1,000 pounds per acre throughout critical wind-erosion periods.
Conservation tilling consists of no-till techniques. It also includes in-row subsoiling, strip-tilling and ridge tilling, all designed to minimize soil loss and runoff.
Contour Farming and Terraces
Contour farming entails planting along the lay of the land, using natural hills and curves to prevent water loss. Instead of multiple straight lines, you might have crops going in various directions.
Contour farming uses gravity, placing plants with the highest water demands in the lowest-lying areas to make water use more efficient. Terraces are similar, using human-made structures to direct water flow.
Water and Sediment-Control Basins
Water and sediment-control basins conserve water and prevent runoffs by taking a structural approach. Farmers build a berm at the end of slopes to prevent water and soil from escaping. The method piles up dirt while directing water elsewhere through an underground outlet system.
Grass protects soil from erosion and keeps those vital nutrients in the fields where they belong — not in area waterways where they contribute to cultural eutrophication. This process occurs when too many nutrients spill into lakes and ponds, causing algae blooms that suffocate the life beneath.
Grassed waterways give excess fluids somewhere to go without depleting the soil. They’re an excellent choice in places where flash flooding causes headaches.
Streambank and Shoreline Protection
Physical structures can protect streambanks and shorelines from erosion thanks to agricultural runoff. These buffer zones might consist of various trees and shrubs native to the area and hearty enough to absorb the excess.
Furthermore, ranchers can build chutes to direct livestock only to specific areas along waterways. This prohibition helps keep waste out of the water while minimizing soil disruption near the shore.
Protecting Water Quality from Agricultural Runoff
Current agricultural practices create considerable carbon emissions and contribute to global warming. They also threaten waterways, as runoff from fertilizer and pesticides can poison the precious fluid humans and animals need to drink.
Farmers can help protect water quality from agricultural runoff by employing the seven methods above. Stopping climate change takes everyone’s contribution. All people deserve water that’s safe and clean to drink.