Managing Nutrients

Nutrient are very important to all living things. We are concerned about the amount and type of nutrients that are in foods for our families. Agriculture producers are also concerned about the amount and type of nutrients that are in livestock feeds and fertilizers for crops. Nutrients are constantly be cycled through our environment helping people, plants & animals grow.

Nutrients are also important to aquatic life, however, too many nutrients in our rivers and streams cause serious water quality problems. Excess nutrients, and the problems associated with them, have been identified as a leading cause of water pollution. The nutrients causing most concern are nitrogen and phosphorus.

Nitrogen and phosphorus are present in streams and being utilized by aquatic plants and animals. Excessive amounts of nutrients, sometimes referred to as nutrient loading, can result in excessive growth of aquatic organisms such as algae. Algae will continue to grow utilizing the excess nutrients in the stream. Growth will stop, however, and algae will begin to die and be consumed by bacteria and other microorganisms. As the bacteria consume the dead and decaying algae, dissolved oxygen levels in the stream are depleted. This reduces the amount of oxygen available to other aquatic life and can lead to fish kills and foul smelling waters.

Excess nutrients get into streams through sources of nonpoint source pollution. This is pollution that comes from a wide variety of sources and generally reaches the stream through run-off after storms. As water travels across the land and into a stream, it can pick up and take with it nutrients and other contaminants.

Reducing the amount of run-off from agricultural fields and livestock feedlots is a primary objective of the Kentucky Agriculture Water Quality Act. Farmers can reduce the amount of nutrients running off their land and into streams by implementing a water quality plan. This plan contains selected best management practices that conserve natural resources and prevent erosion. Each water quality plan is specifically tailored to the individual farm or timber operation.

Landowners are to implement water quality plans by October, 2001. Assistance in developing a water quality plan can be found at county Extension offices, local Conservation District offices and local USDA-NRCS offices.

Examples of best management practices that reduce the amounts of nutrients that could make their way to streams include practices such as conservation tillage, pasture management, rotational grazing, manure storage facilities, filter strips and riparian areas. For more information on managing nutrients to prevent water pollution, please contact your county Extension office.

Prepared by Jenny Cocanougher, Extension Associate for Environmental and Natural Resource Issues
Kentucky Water Awareness Month Packet
January 2001