The new USDA
Conservation Assessment Effects Project involves collecting water samples from
various watersheds across the country to study the effects farming practices
have on water quality. Click the image for more information about
Monitoring Herbicides in Midwest Drinking
Water By Don
Comis January 30, 2006
Sampling of water running through the St. Joseph River watershed in
northeast Indiana is showing glyphosate herbicide contamination to be minimal,
according to Agricultural Research Service (ARS) studies. Glyphosate levels exceeded the
federal limit for drinking water only once during three years of testing.
Thats good news to about 200,000 residents of Fort Wayne, Ind.,
and to some two dozen other small, rural communities that rely on this
watershed for their drinking water.
However, three years of testing data from the ARS National Soil
Erosion Laboratory (NSERL)
at West Lafayette, Ind., show that atrazine herbicide is often found above the
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency limit for
drinking water. Drinking water treatment plants in the Fort Wayne metropolitan
area use activated charcoal to remove atrazine that has most likely run off
from cornfields. Atrazine is widely used to control weeds on Midwestern
Since many farmers in the St. Joseph River watershed region must rely
on drainage pipes and ditches to get their fields dry enough to plant, ARS
supports a project focused on measuring--and curbing--runoff pollution from
these drainage systems.
Runoff from farms carries nutrients and soil, as well as pesticides,
to the St. Joseph River. Scientists involved with this watershed project are
looking at a variety of drainage improvements, such as maintaining an even
water table, adding alum or gypsum to reduce contaminant levels in runoff, and
filtering standing water.
The ARS leader of this project,
Huang, also heads NSERL. That facility was recently converted into the
agencys newest water-quality lab. Its the only lab involved in the
U.S. Department of Agricultures new
Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP) that is sampling
water for glyphosate (Roundup), the herbicide thats increasingly being
substituted for the older atrazine.
The NSERL has two automated systems with special extraction equipment
that can simultaneously detect five different pesticides in tiny amounts of
The CEAP program is designed to make sure that taxpayers are getting
their money's worth from publicly funded USDA conservation measures
administered through the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act--the Farm
ARS is USDAs chief in-house scientific research agency.