AUSTIN — Innovative modeling on several Oklahoma watersheds is paving the way for management of point and nonpoint sources of pollution.
Dr. Dan Storm, an engineer with the Oklahoma State University biosystems and agricultural engineering department, said researchers hope to bridge the gap between modeling of point and nonpoint sources to learn how technology may be best used to improve water quality.
Storm was one of the speakers at the recent Innovations and New Horizons in livestock and Poultry Manure Management conference here.
“Point sources of pollution originate from a discrete point and discharge pollutants or nutrients directly into surface water,” Storm said. Municipal waste water treatment plants or manufacturing plants are examples.
Nonpoint source pollution, on the other hand, arises from diffuse sources and can include such things as confined animal feeding operations, crop production, pastures, silviculture, construction activities and runoff from urban areas, he added.
Engineers at OSU are using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and computer models to simulate the transport of nutrients from the field to the stream. This allows them to identify which nutrients will impact water quality and quantify the nutrients which reach surface waters.
Storm, in cooperation with other engineers and scientists with the Oklahoma Agricultural Experiment Station and the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, is modeling phosphorus transport in several watersheds around the state.
Their current modeling activities include the Upper Illinois River Basin (about 1 million acres), the Grand Lake Basin (6.4 million acres) and the Wister Lake Basin on the Upper Poteau River (640,000 acres).
“Phosphorus is of prime importance to us,” he said. That mineral is often the limiting component of the growth of algae, which impairs the beneficial uses of surface waters.
What makes the work of the Oklahoma engineers so unique is that they are using modeling results from both nonpoint and point sources, along with water quality monitoring data to develop watershed or basin-scale management plans.
Methods for combining these point and nonpoint models into one system are currently nonexistent. The plans are developed in conjunction with such local and state agencies as the Oklahoma Conservation Commission, Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, and the Oklahoma Water Resources Board.
“You must take into account all pollutant sources in order to determine what is entering surface water, show much that water body can handle and show how to reduce those levels if needed,” Storm said.
“Then you can evaluate point and nonpoint source simultaneously and try to determine the most cost-effective method of reducing nutrient loadings to meet water quality objectives,” he added.
Many times, basin-scale management plans which address all sources simultaneously can save money by opening up the possibility for what is termed “nutrient trading.” For instance, a community may be facing a $5 million to $10 million bill in order to fix a problem with a municipal waste water treatment plant. However, with a management plan, they may be able to get the same water quality improvement by investing $200,000 to $300,000 to address nonpoint sources.
“Because of some water quality problems in a specific river stretch, a point source discharger may opt to do some nutrient trading. You actually address alternative sources and that in turn is many times more cost-efficient,” he said.
It is typically too expensive, compared to the benefits, to fix all of the problems.
“We can’t bring the surface waters back to the condition they were in before man altered the ecosystem. Nutrient trading is a rational method to gain the greatest water quality improvement with limited funds,” he added.
The manure management conference had many sponsors, including the Texas Agricultural Extension Service, Texas Agricultural Experiment Station and industry organizations.