Page Banner

United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Agricultural Research Service
U.S. Department of Agriculture
ARS News and InformationSearch News and InfoScience for KidsImage GalleryAgricultural Research MagazinePublications and NewslettersNews ArchiveNews and Info homeARS News and Information
Latest news | Subscribe

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:


Scientific contact: Richard Lowrance, ARS Southeast Watershed Research Laboratory, Tifton, Ga., phone (912) 386-3894, fax (912) 386-7215,

Top|News Staff|Photo Staff

E-mail the web teamPrivacy and other policiesSite mapAbout ARS Information StaffBottom menu

Home | News | Pubs | Magazine | Photos | Sci4Kids | Search
About ARS Info | Site map | Policies | E-mail us

Last Modified: 5/15/2017
Footer Content Back to Top of Page