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Natural Streamside Buffers Help Safeguard Water Quality / February 3, 1998 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

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Checking water quality

Natural Streamside Buffers Help Safeguard Water Quality

By Jan Suszkiw
February 3, 1998

Planting land closest to streams with native species of trees, shrubs and grasses-- rather than crops--can help preserve water quality, Agricultural Research Service scientists say. ARS studies have shown that the plantings create highly effective natural riparian buffers that capture field runoff of sediment, fertilizers and other pollutants and keep it out of the stream.

In Georgia, ARS scientists recently completed a study tracking herbicide runoff from a corn field into a 150-foot-wide grass and forest buffer. At the edge of the field, the scientists detected chemical concentrations of 34 parts per billion. But in the buffer, they detected concentrations of only 1 ppb or less.

Elsewhere, ARS scientists are testing various warm- and cool-season grasses farmers can grow to reduce nitrate, another danger to streamwater. The goal: identify grasses that foster a soil environment necessary for converting dissolved nitrate into gaseous forms that enter the atmosphere instead of streamwater. Research shows up to 50 percent of a riparian zone's dissolved nitrate can be removed in this way.

Find out about USDA's National Conservation Buffer Initiative.

ARS scientists also provide scientific expertise to state and federal action agencies, like USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service. These agencies help farmers, landowners and others restore or manage riparian buffers to protect water quality.

Last summer, for example, Maryland joined the Conservation Reserve Program's new state enhancement project. Part of this new project calls for establishing buffers along Maryland's waterways, including those of the Eastern Shore. There, nutrient-rich chicken manure may be triggering outbreaks of the fish-killing microbe Pfiesteria piscicida.

A more detailed report on the latest ARS buffer research appears in the February issue of Agricultural Research magazine. The story is also on the World Wide Web at:

http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/feb98/nepa0298.htm

Scientific contact: Richard Lowrance, ARS Southeast Watershed Research Laboratory, Tifton, Ga., phone (912) 386-3894, fax (912) 386-7215, lorenz@tifton.cpes.peachnet.edu.

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