News / USA

    US Farmers Work to Curb Lake Erie Pollution

    To reduce farm chemical pollution, farmers plant a second quick-growing crop after the harvest in order to reduce erosion. The deep-rooted plants help aerate the soil. (VOA/E. Celeste)
    To reduce farm chemical pollution, farmers plant a second quick-growing crop after the harvest in order to reduce erosion. The deep-rooted plants help aerate the soil. (VOA/E. Celeste)
    Erika Celeste
    Ohio — Lake Erie, the smallest of North America’s five Great Lakes, supplies fresh drinking water to an estimated 11 million people in Ohio, Michigan and southern Ontario province, Canada.

    Yet sometimes pollution, both from industrial waste and farm-chemical runoff, leaves large areas of the lake covered in half-meter-thick layers of green slime. Scientists blame the excess phosphorus and nitrates entering the water, which act like fertilizer, for Lake Erie’s algal blooms.

    Source of the problem

    To find out where these extra nutrients come from, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources has been studying data from its network of 14 water-quality monitoring stations installed along the rivers that drain into the Lake Erie basin.  

    At one staton, water from the small stream is diverted into a large concrete flume where it is pumped into the testing station.

    “We’ll have a sample a day, year round every day so that really pins down what the chemistry is like,” says Dave Baker of Ohio's Heidelberg University, who oversees the monitoring stations for the Department of Natural Resources. 

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the federal government’s pollution watchdog, requires point sources, such as factories, to monitor and report their discharges. So Baker is looking for where the other sources of pollution come from.

    “If there are problems in Lake Erie, we want to know where it’s coming from and make sure we’re putting resources to remedy the problem in the right place," Baker says. "It’s stations like this that help do that.”

    In this case, a primary source of the pollution turns out to be chemical fertilizer that washes off farmland during rainstorms.

    No-till farming

    Because farmers and ranchers believe fertilizers are essential to high crop yields, they are reluctant to stop using them.
    Water filtered through the no-till soil (left) was clearer and had less sediment, than the water that ran off the tilled soil (right).Water filtered through the no-till soil (left) was clearer and had less sediment, than the water that ran off the tilled soil (right).
    x
    Water filtered through the no-till soil (left) was clearer and had less sediment, than the water that ran off the tilled soil (right).
    Water filtered through the no-till soil (left) was clearer and had less sediment, than the water that ran off the tilled soil (right).

    However, the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service isn’t asking them to abandon farm chemicals, but rather to use them more sparingly so they don’t run off the land when it rains. One way they can do that is to practice so-called no-till farming.

    When soil is constantly pounded by the wheels of a tractor and then fluffed up with a tiller, it breaks down the natural bonds in the soil, causing it to become very hard and compact. When that happens, water or fertilizer can’t penetrate the soil, and they run off the land into local waterways and eventually into Lake Erie.

    Frank Gibbs, a soil analyst with the US Department of Agriculture, explains that in no-till fields, farmers don’t break up the earth before planting and they follow the same path every time with their heavy machinery. That way, only the pathways, not the seed rows, become compacted.

    “We’re using our head to farm rather than a big piece of steel," Gibbs says. "Dragging steel through the ground is not the answer, besides blowing all that diesel in the air.”

    No-tilled soil results in greater water infiltration, less runoff, less erosion, and reduced flooding.

    “It’s all about water quality and managing water,” says farmer Allen Dean, who has embraced no-till farming.

    Yet others remain cautious about making the switch, because tilled soils can take up to five years to regain the ability to absorb and hold water. And many growers lack the specialized equipment they need for no-till farming.

    Cover-crop farming 

    Another technique for reducing farm chemical pollution of Lake Erie is cover-crop farming. After the harvest, farmers plant a second quick-growing crop to reduce erosion. The deep-rooted plants, such as rye or turnips, help aerate the soil, allowing worms and fungi to work their magic and helping the soil to absorb more water and nutrients.

    Dean says it’s discouraging that some of his neighbors don’t yet use these methods, but he notes that government programs are encouraging them to switch.

    The USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program has provided about $1.2 million grants to Ohio farmers to help them plant more than 10,000 hectares of cover crops. New machinery is also being developed that allows farmers to plant cover crops between rows of maturing crops.

    “We want to make sure we do the best we can do and that our nutrients don’t go to the streams, and rivers and end up in Lake Erie or the Gulf of Mexico or wherever it might be,” Dean says.

    By keeping their soils in good condition and reducing fertilizer runoff, Ohio farmers are not only helping themselves, but they are also reducing the threat to the region’s drinking water supply by improving the quality of water running into Lake Erie.

    You May Like

    Rubio Looks to Surge in New Hampshire

    Republican presidential candidate has moved into second place in several recent surveys and appears to be gaining ground on longtime frontrunner Donald Trump

    UN Calls for Global Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

    Recent UNICEF report finds at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries

    UN Pilots New Peace Approach in CAR

    Approach launched in northern town of Kaga Bandoro, where former combatants of mainly Muslim Seleka armed group and Christian and animist anti-Balaka movement are being paid to do community work

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.