Not surprisingly, counties with intensive row crop agriculture, such as those in the Upper Midwest Corn Belt states of Iowa, Illinois and Ohio, contributed the most phosphorus to rivers. However, these same counties often showed negative phosphorus balances, meaning that phosphorus outputs in crops exceeded inputs by farmers.
In other words, farmers in these regions are actually mining stored phosphorus from the soil, rather than putting more into the system, David says. "But that negative balance doesn't have much to do with the phosphorus that gets in the river." Instead, the overall intensity of agriculture seems to matter most. "When I'm sitting here in Illinois in a watershed that's 95% corn and soybeans, it's going to lose some phosphorus," he says, "whether the balance is negative or positive."
In addition, although animal manure is considered a major phosphorus source to streams and rivers, it was relatively unimportant to phosphorus loading across the entire MRB. David suspects the reason is that most large-scale animal farms have moved to western states in the basin, such as Colorado, where there's less precipitation to carry manure nutrients into the Mississippi.
Phosphorus from human waste did prove significant. Counties encompassing Chicago and other major metropolitan areas "showed up as hot spots," David says, because most municipalities don't remove phosphorus from the otherwise clean sewage effluent they discharge into streams. The team further found that about half of the variation in phosphorus loadings was not explained by their models, suggesting that other factors also contribute, such as stream bank erosion and phosphorus deposits in river sediments.
Overall, the findings suggest that reducing phosphorus pollution will require broad adoption of practices that limit nutrient runoff, such as cover crops, buffer strips, and incorporation of fertilizers. It will also require limits on phosphorus discharge fr
|Contact: Sarah Uttech|
American Society of Agronomy