Southeast
University of Illinois

New conservation practice could reduce nitrogen pollution in agricultural drainage water

URBANA, Ill. - Every summer, a "dead zone" forms in the Gulf of Mexico. Plumes of oxygen-robbing algae, fed by excess nitrogen coming in from the Mississippi River, kill off marine life and threaten the livelihoods of those who fish the Gulf.

States bordering the Mississippi River are putting strategies in place to limit nitrogen from wastewater treatment plants, surface runoff, and agricultural fields. In a new study, University of Illinois scientists have estimated that a new conservation practice known as saturated buffers could reduce nitrogen from agricultural drainage by 5 to 10 percent.

"It might not sound like much, given that agricultural drainage only represents a portion of the nitrogen getting into the Mississippi. But 5 to 10 percent is pretty good for an inexpensive, passive system that farmers can put in and forget about," says Reid Christianson, research assistant professor in the Department of Crop Sciences at U of I and co-author of the study, published in Agricultural and Environmental Letters.

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