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Summary of Key Findings from Recent USGS Study

September 7, 2011Patrick NunnallyUncategorizedComments Off on Summary of Key Findings from Recent USGS Study

I’ve written before about the Freshwater Society, their great programs and very informative blog.  A recent edition of the blog summarizes a number of key findings concerning increasing nitrates in the Mississippi River, derived from a USGS study that was released this summer.

What does this study mean for those of us in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area?  Hard to say, and, like everything else, the lessons are often in the “eye of the beholder.”  But if I were to hazard a couple of guesses, I would point to these observations, which are taken from the blog post, not directly from the report.:

2008 modeling by the USGS scientists (who, incidentally, are regarded as among the best in the business among scientists employed by public agencies) found these sources for nitrogen in the Mississippi

  • Farm fields, primarily corn and soybeans, 66 percent.
  • Pasture and range land, 5 percent.
  • Municipal sewage effluent and urban storm water, 9 percent.
  • Atmospheric deposition, 16 percent.
  • Natural land, 4 percent.
These facts tell me that none of us is innocent here.  There’s a significant amount of nitrogen from municipal sources, both storm water and sewage discharge.  And the farmers who grow corn and soybeans, and undertake practices that release the estimated two thirds of the nitrogen are responding to markets that are set, directly or indirectly, by the massed consumers in the cities. Unless you don’t eat anything that you didn’t grow yourself, this includes you.
What can/ought to be done?  I’ll leave the “oughts” to others for now, but will suggest a couple of things that can be done:
  1. Participate in the upcoming debates and policy formation of the next “Farm Bill” (in quotes because the bill is about much more than farming).  There are a LOT of organizations involved; go to the 1 Mississippi Campaign to learn more.
  2. Educate yourself about where the food you buy comes from.  How far has it been shipped?  How does the store you patronize address issues pertaining to where its supplies come from (or is it just interested in the least expensive food, regardless of source, which has an important place, to be sure).
  3. Support the work of organizations that work with farmers to alter their practices.  It should be self-evident (but appears not to be) that farmers don’t set out to poison rivers with sediment and nutrients such as nitrogen.  These are byproducts of farming practice choices that are made for a whole host of other reasons.  Again the 1 Mississippi campaign members are a good starting point for people working on this part of things.
And to circle back to where we started, keep up with the work of the Freshwater Society; they’re on top of this stuff.

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