USGS Report-new criteria necessary?


The US Coast and Geological Survey (USGS) published a new report which analyzed nine rivers, Susquehanna, Potomac, James, Rappahannock, Appomattox, Pamunkey, Mattapony, Patuxent, and the Choptank using a new method which takes into consideration seasonality, variations in river flow, and the long term trends that are driven by the wide range of human activities in the watersheds. Actually the headline is misleading because  agriculture controls are all voluntary and there is no verification by either MDA or MDE of nutrient management plans nor the effectiveness of cover crops.

The study shows that nitrogen pollution levels have increased modestly or even declined in Virginia as indicated by the Patuxent and Potomac nitrogen levels showing declines driven by improvement in wastewater treatment plant nutrient treatment. Pennsylvania represented by the Susquehanna showed overall improvement but some recent deterioration. On the other hand Choptank pollution levels which increased by 36% between 1978 and 2000 increased by 53% between 2000 and 2008. This increase which was 1.6% per year from 1978 to 2000 has increased to a rate of 2.1% per year between 2000 and 2008 an alarming 30% increase in the rate of nitrogen pollution. This is probably a nationwide trend as shown by the record Gulf dead zone an indicator of fertilizer and manure pollution in 41% of the nation where corn and CAFO meat and corn based processed food production are dominant. If one counts the CAFO dominated Eastern Coastal plain estuaries as reported in David Kirby’s book Animal Factory it is likely that more than 50% of the land area of the US is suffering from corn and CAFO nutrient pollution at an unprecedented rate.

Comments in the article by interviewed scientists:

Robert Hirsch the USGS hydrologist who developed the new tool based on actual field measurement commenting about the Eastern Shore: The lack of any easing of the increase in nitrogen levels up through 2008 suggest that whatever has been done to limit

the loss of fertilizer from farm fields hasn’t been particularly effective. “At least in this one watershed (Choptank) We would expect, if things were really improving at the land surface, to see it begin to come out, and it is not,”

Russell B. Brinsfield director of the agriculture experiment station at Wye.“ If we hadn’t done what we have done, the trends may have been higher”It has only been in the past few years, that there has been widespread use of cover crops, one of the most effective methods to keep nutrients out of the water to soak up leftover fertilizer.

William Dennison- Vice president at the U. of Maryland Horn Point Laboratory“This is very troubling for the restoration effort on the Eastern Shore” The Septic systems plus agriculture, we’re just not getting a handle on that. We’re not getting the progress we should.  ( USGS bulletin 1228 pg. 6 shows septic systems at 1% of Delmarva N source)

Post editor (DRK) comments- The level of increase suggests that there may be multiple causes. Those possible are (1) the increase in chicken CAFOs although this would show up even more in watersheds South of the Choptank particularly the Pocomoke,  (2) the decrease in the CRP program which was opposed nationally by The American Farm Bureau Federation and dropped by USDA. (3) corn production the major pollution source increases due to the high price of corn caused by ethanol subsidies. This  has been reported by Gulf scientist resulting in this years larger than ever oxygen dead zone (see our reference #31 for a taped interview). (4) The current accepted criteria for N fertilizer application to corn at 1 pound per bu. per acre is too high for water quality as is the NRCS criteria for soil loss at 5 tons per acre per year.

Solutions- The Industrial Agriculture meat production system is not so much based on innovation as promoted by the industry but more on short cuts in soil management, excessive use of chemicals including chemical fertilizer and high density CAFO production resulting in  animal abuse. The system produces cheap meat which is high in saturated fat. Corn based processed food is also high in sugar. As a result the US has the highest rate of obesity and diabetes in the history of the world and the highest health care costs. As the comments of scientists to this report demonstrate the intimidation of scientists and politicians by agribusiness reported by the Pew Commission is a big factor in preventing needed change. A new National Commission of independent scientists similar to the 2000 Gulf Hypoxia commission with a mandate to examine the basic criteria for fertilizer application, soil management and CAFO animal management is necessary. The level of soil loss, water contamination and animal abuse nationwide would suggest that current criteria are grossly inadequate. Immediate emergency action should be taken on the obvious problems as follows. All actions must be at the Federal level in order to create a level playing field for all farmers.

1. Stop Federal government subsidies of grain production particularly corn

2. Mandate cover crops for all tilled farm fields nationwide paid for as a cost of doing business not subsidized. The major benefit is the retention of our topsoil.

3. Mandate a minimum 3 crop rotation not counting the cover crop as recommended by USDA scientists. See USDA handbook #10

4. A mandated reduction of chemical fertilizer application Nationwide as recommended by the Gulf Hypoxia Commission.

5. Pyrolysis of CAFO manure and use of the produced clean organic fertilizer byproduct on farm fields.

6. A reduction of animal density and elimination of all caged techniques in CAFOs

7. A full time humane officer stationed on the kill floor of every animal processing facility with power to stop the production line if an animal is being mistreated. (see our CAFO Post)

8. Start a healthy food educational program in all schools. Set an example by serving only healthy, environmentally compatable food in the schools. The focus should be on pasture raised meat, a reduction of meat consumption and on the many health and environmental advantages of a vegetarian diet as proposed by Albert Einstein many years before Industrial Agricultural started and all its negative health and environmental issues became obvious


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