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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

ARS, EPA Partner to Protect Watersheds / March 27, 2007 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

Pigs. Link to photo information
Hogs and other livestock produce billions of tons of manure each year. Researchers are checking to see if conservation measures can ensure that this manure can be applied in the winter without harm to water quality.

Hillside test site where liquid manure was applied, with a buffer area on its downhill side.
Researchers applied liquid swine manure to part of this Ohio hillside (the dark area at right). They left a downhill buffer area free of manure. Runoff will collect in the sampling shed at left, so it can later be analyzed for sediment, nutrients and pathogens. Photo courtesy Martin Shipitalo, ARS.


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ARS, EPA Partner to Protect Watersheds

By Don Comis
March 27, 2007

This winter, scientists in the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) North Appalachian Experimental Watershed Unit (NAEW) at Coshocton, Ohio, applied various animal manures to check water quality effects. They wanted to know whether leaving land manure-free near the edges of fields will ensure that winter manure applications are environmentally sound.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is collaborating in these studies as part of that agency's efforts to partner with agricultural scientists for the benefit of farmers and the environment. EPA is concerned about water pollution from manure runoff over frozen soil.

ARS hydraulic engineer James V. Bonta and soil scientists Lloyd B. Owens and Martin J. Shipitalo supervised the application of liquid swine manure and turkey litter manure to cornfields on four small watersheds, and of beef cattle manure slurry to four grass plots. Surface runoff is collected by Coshocton Wheel samplers to be analyzed for quality and to determine volume. Runoff volumes are measured at the watersheds using flumes. ARS scientists analyze water for nitrogen and phosphorus, as well as oxygen depletion.

NAEW researchers have been testing runoff for many years. EPA partially funds this new study, supporting ARS technician Jim Buxton—who does the water sampling—and paying for supplies and training. Buxton sends samples to the EPA Research and Development Office in Cincinnati, Ohio. There, microbiologist John Haines and environmental engineer Shane Rogers analyze samples for E. coli and enterococci pathogens. Enterococci bacteria have replaced fecal coliform bacteria as indicators of the likely presence of other pathogens in water that can also infect people.

The ARS-EPA partnership gives the Coshocton lab funding support and the capability to monitor pathogens, while EPA gains a site ready-made for the study, complete with instruments already in place and researchers with decades of experience in testing for runoff nutrients. The goal is to find a way to avoid the costs farmers now incur from storing manure over winter, while keeping environmental impacts at a minimum.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.

Last Modified: 3/27/2007
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