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Water researcher brings lessons from latest science to Washington, D.C.

Friday, March 23, 2012
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LAWRENCE – A researcher from the University of Kansas is bringing the Environmental Protection Agency and members of Congress a strong message stemming from the latest water science: Progress requires patience.

"Water-quality improvements come very slowly and don't always come with the biological improvements we think we should see," said Don Huggins, director of the Central Plains Center for BioAssessment at the Kansas Biological Survey at KU. "We've realized that over the past 150 years, it's not just our generation that's made a change – that the change in environmental conditions started back in the mid-1800s in some places – and all of that has built a background of impairment that we have to overcome as we address today's agricultural practices and changes."

Huggins has written the synopsis to a new report from the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology. The study, "Assessing the Health of Streams in Agricultural Landscapes: The Impacts of Land Management Change on Water Quality," is meant to address water quality and agricultural management issues across the United States.

The KU researcher said that protecting the health of American watersheds in agricultural areas requires long-term policies that should transcend election cycles and take into account geology, climate change and land-use history as well as best agricultural practices.

Such policies often require a view that is longer than a four-year election cycle, said Huggins.

"It's another thing that's slowing progress – the time it takes for a practice to be put in place and to show results," he said. "The lag time between installation of management, improvements to reach the system and positive change to occur within the water body collectively can take years, to decades, to centuries."

On March 26, Huggins will bring that message to lawmakers and policymakers at presentations organized by CAST, including a morning event at the Russell Senate Office Building, luncheon at the Longworth House Office Building and afternoon meetings at the EPA headquarters.

Huggins said that he'd emphasize the need for patience in allowing policies to take hold and make improvements to water systems in agricultural areas.

"The thing that's unique is that agriculture typically has brought about extreme land-use change from what was here originally," he said. "If you took Kansas or Iowa as an example, those were regions were predominantly grasslands and most of that is now cultivated crops like corn or wheat. Or livestock. That creates a huge environmental change. Pesticides, nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen, eroded soil, all of them can become pollutants within our aquatic systems."

Iowa Water Center also contributed to the report. Huggins will make presentations in Washington, D.C., with John Bonner of CAST.


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