Fertilizer Runoff: Dangers and Prevention Methods

Fertilizers are essential farming tools. Fertilizers are added to soil to help our crops, gardens, and yards flourish. Modern fertilizers contain essential macronutrients for plants such as potassium, phosphorus, and nitrogen. Although soil provides most of the nutrients plants need to thrive, it doesn’t always contain everything.

If fertilizer isn’t carefully placed and used, it travels into bodies of water and other pieces of land, adding excessive nutrients to places that don’t need them. The displacement of fertilizer, known as fertilizer runoff, can lead to various side-effects:

  • Eutrophication: In ponds, lakes, and rivers, fertilizer runoff can cause algae and other plants to grow out of control. This ruins the balance of plant life and harms other species in the water. Algae overgrowth can also harm humans who swim in affected waters and people who consume contaminated water or contaminated fish.
  • Decrease in oxygen: Algal blooms exhaust the dissolved oxygen in the water, leaving little left for marine creatures living in them. This can cause most organisms in the water to die.
  • Ocean acidification: Studies show that eutrophication is a direct cause of ocean acidification. When the pH balance of the ocean lowers, behavioral patterns of sea creatures change. When fish lose their survival skills and begin dying, food webs get ruined. Ocean acidification also negatively impacts humans as many people depend on the ocean for food.
  • Biodiversity loss: All of the previous effects listed can lead to algae becoming the only species still living in the affected waters, causing ecosystems and food chains to fall apart. Predators may leave to find other food sources.

To prevent fertilizer runoff, you can practice sustainable gardening by:

Another way to reduce runoff is planting noninvasive ornamental plants in areas where water tends to run when it rains. According to a study conducted by Louisiana State University’s College of Agriculture, Canna Australia, Pickerelweed, and Bulltongue arrowhead have some of the best consumption rates out of the test plants. The total water consumption in gallons per unit is 157 for Canna Australia, 117 for Pickerelweed, and 78 for Bulltongue arrowhead. Canna Australia’s nutrient recovery rates are 98% for nitrogen (N) and 92% for phosphorus (P), whereas Pickerelweed has a 88% N recovery rate and 82% P recovery rate. Lastly, Bulltongue arrowhead has a 90% N recovery rate and an 82% P recovery rate.

When landscaping, gardening, and farming, individuals can reduce the negative impact of fertilizer runoff by practicing sustainable gardening and planting ornamental shrubs and grasses. Altogether, reducing fertilizer runoff protects bodies of water, creatures living in the water, and even us humans.

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