Coalition Investigating Water Quality in the Northwest
By David Elstein
March 14, 2002
Some farming activities require the
selected use of fertilizers and other chemicals that may enter nearby streams.
Do these move from where they were applied? How much actually gets into the
water? Are wildlife affected? In many cases, no one really knows for sure.
Agricultural Research Service
scientists at the Forage Seed and
Cereal Research Center, Corvallis, Ore., are partners in a federation
investigating whether certain farming practices affect water quality in western
Oregon, northern California and eastern Washington. Once the study is complete,
if the researchers find farming practices affect water quality, they will
advise farmers of ways to protect water resources.
ARS has found that perennial ryegrass, like grass buffer strips, can
effectively take up applied nitrogen fertilizers so there is little impact on
water quality in nearby streams. Research is now under way to see how grass
seed fields interact with riparian zones and influence the habitat of salmon
and steelhead trout that are protected by the Federal Endangered Species Act.
The researchers are also studying how conservation practices used on rangeland
and irrigated farms near Sacramento, Calif., and on Kentucky bluegrass grass
seed farms near Spokane, Wash., affect water quality.
Since the research involves projects in three states and various farm and
environmental issues are being considered, many groups are helping ARS,
including USDAs Natural Resources
Conservation Service, the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency, the California Audubon Society,
Oregon State Universitys (OSU)
Fisheries and Wildlife Department, the
Yolo County (Calif.) Resources Conservation District, and local farmers. The
researchers are also working with OSUs Department of Computer Science to design web
pages and decision-making tools to help farmers use the findings. This is a
unique partnership that combines federal and local government agencies,
different departments of a university, private organizations and the farming
The ARS lab comprises a diverse group of scientists including agronomist
Jeffrey Steiner, plant physiologist Stephen Griffith and hydrologist Gerald
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agricultures chief scientific research agency.