Nutrient pollution gaining attention

By Brent M. Haglund, Ph.D.

A recent article in The Economist deals with a significant issue that has been a main focus of Sand County Foundation Foundation for nearly a decade. The issue is nutrient, primarily phosphorous and nitrogen, runoff from agricultural lands that is polluting our nation’s waterways including significantly, the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. This pollution damages fisheries, degrades drinking water quality, and causes blooms of toxic algae that have hampered recreation and tourism and reduced property values. In extreme cases, it can have a detrimental effect on human health.

Nutrient pollution is an escalating problem, nationally and internationally.  While there have been some functioning projects and partnerships established and run by farmers and their partners, such as Sand County Foundation’s Agricultural Incentives program, the scale of the challenge grows.

According to the Economist article, the amount of nitrates flowing into the Gulf of Mexico has increased by 300% over the past 30 years. Although the issue is receiving a heightened level of recognition, we believe the solution starts on private lands. Since 2003, the Agricultural Incentives program has been working with Midwestern farmers who have taken the responsibility to voluntarily implement practices to reduce nutrient runoff from their farms. This is a proactive approach that reduces the need for expensive reactive measures such as purification treatment by municipal water authorities, which gets passed on to taxpayers.

We are pleased to expand the program by entering into a partnership to improve watersheds in Dane County, Wisconsin.  You will notice Dane County Executive Joe Parisi is quoted in the Economist article.

Although there is a lot to be done, we believe that landowners are in the best position to help us find solutions to an issue that is just gaining national and international attention. A move toward more proactive, voluntary nutrient management efforts on private lands is a step in the right direction.

Dr. Brent Haglund is President of Sand County Foundation

Photo by USDA NRCS

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