MANHATTAN, Kansas, (ENS) - The pollution of fresh water by agricultural nutrients costs government agencies, drinking water facilities and individual Americans at least $4.3 billion a year in total, finds new research from Kansas State University.
Biology professor Walter Dodds, who led the study, says the researchers calculated that $44 million a year is spent just protecting aquatic species from nutrient pollution.
Dodds and the K-State researchers based their conclusions on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data on nitrogen and phosphorous levels in bodies of water throughout the country.
The damaging chemicals - phosphorous and nitrogen - enter the environment from nonpoint sources rather than flowing into a lake or stream from one pipe.
They enter the water from various points, such as runoff from row crop agriculture across the surrounding lands, said Dodd.
The researchers calculated the money lost from that pollution by looking at factors like decreasing lakefront property values, the cost of treating drinking water and the revenue lost when fewer people take part in recreational activities like fishing or boating.
"We are providing underestimates," Dodds said. "Although our accounting of the degree of nutrient pollution in the nation is fairly accurate, the true costs of pollution are probably much greater than $4.3 billion."
High levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in waters can produce harmful algal blooms. In turn, these blooms can produce "dead zones" in water bodies where dissolved oxygen levels are so low that most aquatic life cannot survive, according to the EPA.