Linda F. Benedict, Franze, Carol D., Moreira, Vinicius R., LeBlanc, Brian D., Sheffield, Ron, Fletcher, Jr., Bobby H.
Brian LeBlanc, Carol Franze, Ron Sheffield, Vinicius Moreira and Bobby H. Fletcher Jr.
The LSU AgCenter conducts extension programs to inform Louisiana citizens about water resources and ecosystem policy, protection and conservation. One such program involves informing people about a recent announcement by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to establish numeric nutrient criteria for Florida water bodies under the 1972 Clean Water Act. This announcement has created concern in Louisiana and other states. The Clean Water Act aims to protect the nation’s waters from a wide array of impairments and requires the adoption of water quality criteria sufficient to protect designated uses.
Numeric criteria establish measurable limits for the concentrations of specific pollutants such as nitrogen and phosphorus or other quantitative indicators of water quality, such as temperature. Water quality standards are usually established by individual state agencies such as Louisiana’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) with oversight by the EPA. If the state and EPA cannot agree, the EPA administrator has authority to supersede the state and establish water quality standards if the agency determines such actions are necessary to meet the requirements of the act.
Louisiana and many other states have historically used narrative criteria for nutrients. A few years ago Florida began exploring the use of numeric criteria for nutrients and began the process of testing and trying to establish workable limits for nutrients and the associated costs of implementation. In 2009, the EPA concluded that based on available data, information and trends, Florida’s narrative nutrient criteria alone were not sufficient to protect designated uses.
The EPA also concluded that numeric nutrient criteria, and not narrative criteria, were necessary to meet the requirements of the Clean Water Act. The EPA determination in Florida is being challenged in federal court by the state of Florida and other groups. The outcome of this case could have wide-ranging implications for Louisiana. As a result of this uncertainty, most states, including Louisiana, are exploring the adoption of numeric criteria for nutrients in surface waters. AgCenter extension specialists are informing state officials and agricultural and natural resource leaders about the situation in Florida and the implications of adopting nutrient numeric criteria in Louisiana.
Plant Mats for Cleaner Water
LSU AgCenter extension specialists have developed a project aimed at cleaning water through the use of plant mats. Vallisneria americana, a submerged aquatic plant native to Lake Pontchartrain, is planted in coconut-fiber mats in predator proof cages and placed 18 to 20 inches below the water surface in a freshwater pond on the Hammond Research Station. The goal is to measure the amount of nutrients the vegetation removes from the pond and to grow and sustain populations of this threatened species for transplanting into suitable habitat in and around Lake Pontchartrain.
The project includes bimonthly water sampling to measure a variety of water-quality parameters above and below the vegetated areas. 4-H Clubs and other student groups will be involved in transplanting these plants into the lake and nearby tributaries. In addition, these groups and their teachers will be taught how to growth these plants in green houses or freshwater ponds and the role and function of these plants in the ecosystem. The multi-year project is funded by the Pontchartrain Basin Restoration Program.
Horses and Water Quality
Extension specialist and agents have collaborated to develop an educational program for horse owners and horse farm proprietors to encourage the voluntary adoption of strategies that can reduce polluted stormwater runoff from their land. The program was developed in response to increased concerns by DEQ that some of the sediment, bacteria and nutrient loads entering water bodies in the Lake Pontchartrain Basin were from the high numbers of horses and horse farms in the basin. Although the genesis of concern for the potential pollutants emitted from equine operations, the program is generic enough to be used in any Louisiana watershed. AgCenter collaborators on this project are part of a seven-state research and extension project NE1041, "Environmental Impacts of Equine Operations."
Best Management Practices and Master Farmer Program
LSU AgCenter water resources and commodity specialists and researchers have recently rewritten commodity-based environmental best management practices manuals. green These manuals are used extensively in the Master Farmer Program. These manuals are critical to maintaining producer options for voluntarily implementing pollution-reduction management strategies that support the state’s nonpoint pollution reduction plans. See the back cover for a listing of these manuals.
Project with Shell
LSU AgCenter extension specialists have developed an educational program for science teachers and students as a result of a relationship developed with the Shell Oil Company. Shell recently constructed a deep-water robotics training facility in Robert, La., and the company approached the AgCenter about ecological and water-quality maintenance of its deep-water impoundment. Stemming from that relationship, Shell agreed to provide equipment and supplies for educational programs that will consist of wetlands education, water-quality testing and results interpretation, organism identification and ecological function, and fisheries population assessment and management. Specialists are developing curricula to be used with the 4-H Youth Wetlands Program.
Brian D. LeBlanc, Associate Professor and Roy and Karen Pickren Professor of Water Resources, LSU AgCenter and Sea Grant, Callegari Environmental Center, Baton Rouge, La.; Carol Franze, Area Agent, Southeast Region, Hammond, La.; Ron Sheffield, Associate Professor, Department of Biological & Agricultural Engineering, LSU AgCenter, Baton Rouge, La.; Vinicius Moreira, Associate Professor, Southeast Research Station, Franklinton, La.; Bobby H. Fletcher Jr., Assistant Professor and Southeast Region Director
(This article was published in the fall 2011 issue of Louisiana Agriculture magazine.)