Alton, IL

Water Quality Issues Related to Fertilizer Runoff

Story by WBGZ Radio

Illinois is dealing with serious water-quality issues, and nutrient pollution is partly to blame.  Fertilizer runoff can increase levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in waterways, negatively impacting the surrounding environment.  

Researchers at Southern Illinois University have come up with possible solutions.

Dr. Jon Schoonover, physical hydrologist and soil scientist at SIU, said the university’s research mostly focuses on cover crops, saturated buffers and tile drainage, all of which apply to much of Illinois.

Farmers have been using cover crops like cereal rye and winter wheat to help filter nutrients from fertilizer before they reach bodies of water, according to Schoonover.

Farmers are adopting nutrient management plans that consist of what Schoonover calls the four “R’s.”

“You want to apply the right rate of fertilizer, the right timing, the right source and the right place,” Schoonover said.

On the edges of their fields, some farmers uses vegetative strips as a last resort to filter nutrients,while others use grass waterways, according to Schoonover.

“If you have more of a critical area where you have a lot of water concentrated, that grass can reduce soil erosion,” Schoonover said.

The federal government has taken the lead in combating nutrient pollution in waterways in Illinois, but some things are also happening at the state and local levels.

“The Illinois Nutrient Research and Education Council, they bring in about 75 cents per ton of fertilizer sold," Schoonover said. "They use that money for agronomic research."

On the local level, Illinois has several watershed groups that promote restoration projects for lakes and streams, according to Schoonover.

Nutrient pollution from Illinois is also impacting the Gulf of Mexico, according to the Illinois Environmental Council, as nitrogen and phosphorous flow down the Mississippi River to the gulf.

Nutrient pollution in the Gulf of Mexico has caused one of the largest dead zones in the world, according to the council.

“We’re putting quite a bit of nitrogen and phosphorous into those receiving waters and having algae blooms and problems downstream," Schoonover said. "More locally, we have Lake Springfield that has nitrogen and phosphorus issues as well."


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