The Future of Runoff

By PSU EcoMerge Capstone - 12:26 AM


Eutrophication is the process of excess amounts of nitrates and phosphates from fertilizers or sewage that affect the aquatic ecosystem. This process increases the levels of nutrients which in turn raises the amount of phytoplankton and can lead to algal blooms. These blooms are from an increase in algae and cause a discoloration in fresh water lakes and marine environments ranging from green, brown, yellow, or even red depending on the species of algae.


Blooms can be toxic to the environment by the process of hypoxia which is the reduction of oxygen in the water. With high levels of phosphates these blooms can last all year long, causing a depletion of fish and other animal populations. Lakes become toxic which effect the entire ecosystem and can make them unusable for swimming, fishing, and even boating. 

Small amounts of phosphorous that create all these problems move into lakes every year, this may not cause sufficient damage in the short run but this has been a major issue since the 1940’s and has been happening long before that. If nothing is done about runoff from factory farms this issue will get significantly worse, lakes will start to smell bad, more toxic blooms will appear, fish will start to die, and there will be a substantial effect on the entire ecosystem. 

There are however certain solutions to these issues but few are being used. Machines called manure digesters exist that convert phosphorous into a sludge that can either be transferred to phosphorous deficient areas or put into landfills. The only issue with this is that few farmers are able to afford these manure digesters because they cost nearly $1 million. Another issues that has been proposed are buffer strips that are able to protect waterways from runoff, this would not be a permanent solution but would help protect the ecosystem until other solutions could be mede. Certainly there are new technologies that are able to limit the effects of runoff from factory farms but until these are implemented on every farm, this will still remain an urgent issue.

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