Water Quality Focus of Seminar

Thursday, October 22, 2015
Dr. Mike Daniels of the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture explains nonpoint source pollution to conservation representatives and media professionals during the seminar.(TD photo/Jessica Rainwater)

The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture (UADA) held an educational seminar for media professionals and District Conservationists Thursday, Oct. 15, at the Arkansas State University Cooper Alumni Center in Jonesboro during which attendees learned about water quality, nonpoint source pollution, state resource agencies and the differences of impaired watersheds.

While water quality is not currently in the headlines, UADA program associate Kristin Higgins believes "water issues will become more prevalent in the future," and this program is important, "because so many people don't have any connection with their local waterways and when they think of pollution they think of dumping and without people being aware of their contribution to the pollution it will continue...and it needs to change."


There are 10 priority watersheds in the state. Priority watersheds are chosen by the ANRC to focus financial and educational efforts to improve water quality and prevent nonpoint source pollution.

Kevin McGaughey of the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission began the day by showing both media and conservationists the different agencies involved in water quality. Starting with the federal government, McGaughey explained the Environmental Protection Agency is at the top of the chain administering water quality standards outlined in the Clean Water Act (CWA) and delegating much of the authority for water quality management of state agencies.

The EPA is split up into 10 districts; Arkansas is in District 6 along with Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico.

Directly under the EPA is the U.S. Geological Survey, which is a scientific agency of natural science which keeps extensive information on everything from earthquakes to water quality. The last step on the federal ladder is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

At the state level the top authority is the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ), which is the highest regulatory authority in the state. ADEQ also monitors water quality standards, issues permits for point source discharges, oversees water quality regulations such as the municipal stormwater program, the CWA 305B report and establishes the 303d list.

The 305b report holds all characteristics of the nation's water quality which allows identification of problems on a national level; the report is obtained by the EPA for Congress. The 303d list is compiled every two years and includes all bodies of water not meeting designated water criteria. Designation of a water body depends on its usage. Designated uses are listed as extraordinary resource waters based on its aesthetic beauty and broad scope recreational value , ecologically sensitive waterways which are based on aquatic life, natural and scenic waterways are federally designated recreational areas, fisheries/ aquatic life, primary contact recreation or swimming, secondary contact recreation or wading, drinking water and agriculture/industrial water supply.

A detailed list of Arkansas's extraordinary resource waters, ecologically sensitive waterways and natural and scenic waterways can be found at http://www.swl.usace.army.mil/Missions/Regulatory/ArkansasSpecialResourceWaters.....

Under the ADEQ is the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission (ANRC), which regulates Arkansas soil and water conservation laws, develops the state water plan and program management ensuring the prevention of nonpoint source pollution by agriculture practices. ANRC is possibly the least known department of all, McGaughey said. This commission is the reactive force behind addressing water issues in the state, handles water complaints, helps municipalities find funding through grants for water system upgrading and funds investigations into nonpoint source pollution.

The Arkansas Department of Health falls beneath as the main protector of public health and safety by enforcing regulations.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission oversees the protection and conservation aspect of the state and the Arkansas Forestry Commission oversees harvest practices, habitat management and best management practices (bmp) surveys.

Then there are the local offices of city/county water quality ordinances, water suppliers, conservation districts and watershed groups. All of these agencies together make sure the water is safe for the public and, if not, they work together to address the problem or place the impaired body of water on the 303d list. An impaired body of water can stem from many factors, including point and nonpoint pollution.

Watersheds, Nonpoint Pollution.

"Which watershed do you live in?" Dr. Mike Daniels of UADA Cooperative Extension Service asked the media in the room. "The most common answer is I don't live in a watershed," Daniels said. "Everyone lives in a watershed."

Watersheds are defined by the EPA as the area of land where all of the water that is under it or drains off of it goes into the same place. Watersheds are the complete matrix of streams, groundwater and rivers flowing into the six major river basins. Arkansas has about 90,000 miles of streams that drain into these river basins made up of many watersheds. There are approximately 170 watersheds throughout Arkansas, making an intricate spider web of water. To closely study Arkansas's watersheds visit http://watersheds.cast.uark.edu/.

Point source pollution is a pollutant that is easily located. The largest regulated point source pollutant is the millions of gallons of waste water discharged back into the ecosystem daily from industrial facilities and municipal sewage systems, according to the UADA.

Nonpoint pollution is one that is not easily pinpointed and can originate from many different places across a landscape. These pollutants are generally carried across land by runoff from storm or irrigation water. Many different things can be characterized as nonpoint sources, such as oil from a car, fertilizers in yards or herbicides. Water sweeps across yards, roads and crops taking along sediment, nutrients, bacteria, trash and toxic or hazardous waste, which then flows into the streams leading to rivers. Daniels showed pictures of streams running through urban areas and pointed out manholes in those areas. "They were put there for a reason," Daniels said. "Road runoff ends up in streams and so does waste when these overflow."

Water quality and quantity is affected in this way by people when they move into an area and begin building.

Ecology plays a role in the quality and quantity problem. When it rains on a forest, the soil acts as a filter, producing an average of 10 percent runoff, 50 percent absorption and 40 percent goes back into the sky as evaporation. In urban areas where pavement is more common and roofs are shaped to make runoff there is an average of 55 percent runoff and 15 percent absorption.

People generally think about agriculture runoff, but never think about the runoff they produce. "People don't realize the effects they have. Construction sites, roads, roofs, parking lots, sidewalks all contribute," Daniels said. "Also, waste treatment facilities cannot remove pharmaceuticals and hormones which also contribute."

Daniels pointed out streams with extremely steep banks were not originally shaped that way. The steepness comes from an overload on the stream and the new banks can have issues with flooding, erosion and can change the hydrology of the watershed itself. Concrete bottoms are often added in cities, which changes the natural soil filtration. Low impact development is preferred, because of minimized land clearing; other options are cisterns, swales, and rain gardens. "These options reduce flooding, which in turn reduces the amount of runoff," Daniels said.

Daniels has also been working in correlation with Arkansas farmers on a program called Arkansas Discovery Farms Program, which is monitoring the amount of runoff from farming practices. He reported nitrogen fertilizer runoff is less than people think. He has watched a particular farm for two years and found the highest amount to runoff was 1.6 pounds per acre in May of 2014; a total of four percent of what the farmer used on the entire field. In 2013 monitoring the runoff of the same field he found the farmer lost 10.5 percent, but the farmer was reactive. He lowered his application the next year and Daniels was pleased with the result of four percent.

While media representatives were learning about pollution and watersheds, conservationists learned how to produce media for themselves by telling a story effectively and creating two-minute videos from UADA Cooperative Extension Service employees Mary Hightower, Higgins and Dr. Julie Robinson. The exercises taught conservationists how to make video social media ready and how to write press releases.

Conservationists and media came together at the end of the day to perform a water sampling activity where simple chemistry tests showed the students what kind of nutrients the small lake behind the center held such as nitrogen and phosphates. Dissolved oxygen and ph was also tested.

Dr. Jennifer Bouldin, director of the ASU Ecotoxicology lab, demonstrated how the professionals test water quality with sophisticated technology used by professional water quality experts. Attendees learned from the experiment many tests from different areas of the lake would be needed to make a proper analysis and the results would differ from day to day. "It's a continuous flow of change," Bouldin said. "Many different factors affect your results from depth, temperature, flooding, etc."

Yell County Conservationist Carolyn Holcomb has worked with the conservation district for 28 years and she felt she left the day with new information. "Some of the agencies I wasn't even aware of," Holcomb said, but one of the biggest lessons taken away by all conservationists was "getting the word out through Facebook and Twitter." Holcomb also plans to take water quality testing home with her to teach students at the local schools. "Quantity and quality is very important and the students need to know," Holcomb said. "Most people have no idea."

Poinsett County conservationist Brandy Gardner said the seminar improved her understanding of how the media works and "it was cool to see how they intermingle."

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