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Research Touts Wetlands Restoration Near Farms

Scientists report that streams surrounded by natural vegetation showed significantly lower levels of farmland pollutants in soil samples. They recommend the restoration of Midwestern wetlands.

The Bloomington, Ind. Herald-Times reports research scientists, led by Indiana University's Christopher Craft, are recommending the restoration of Midwestern wetlands, particularly riverbank habitat to help diminish the "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf of Mexico dead zone describes the effects of agricultural runoff (nitrogen and phosphorous) that pollutes river and streams that empty into the Mississippi River, then into the gulf. Agricultural fertilizers in waterways encourage algae growth, which in turn lowers oxygen levels and threatens aquatic life. The gulf dead zone lies between Louisiana and Texas, and is the size of New Jersey.

The researchers collected and analyzed soil samples from restored wetlands and riverbanks, then compared the samples with soil from nearby agricultural fields. They found that areas where streams were surrounded by naturally occurring vegetation showed significantly diminished levels of pollutants in the soil samples.

Of course, landscape architects already understand the benefits of wetlands for filtering, cleaning and storing water, and supporting wildlife habitat, but such research helps drive home the importance of wetlands to the ecosystem, despite their down side, e.g., a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

The researchers note that many farmers in the Midwest have drained wetlands and diverted streams into drainage ditches to increase farm production. Such destruction of wetlands and channeling streams, the scientists say, leads to increased chemical runoff from farmlands, plus a greater incidence of flooding and soil erosion.

The researchers believe such programs as the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service program can reap immeasurable benefits

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June 16, 2019, 10:28 pm PDT

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