Scientists Check Midwestern Waters For Effects Of Ag Runoff

A team from the U.S. Geological Survey will spend this summer collecting water samples from Missouri streams to test for hundreds of pesticides and nutrients used in farming.

| June 20, 2013

scientists in a stream

Papoulias and Nicks close the minnow cages with the help of environmental toxicologist Don Tillitt. The biologists will check in on these minnows every other day until the end of July.

Photo by Abbie Fentress Swanson/Harvest Public Media

Reposted with permission from Harvest Public Media

Eleven miles northeast of Centralia, Mo., five U.S. Geological Survey scientists don waders and bright reflective life jackets to wade into Goodwater Creek. Plenty of fish live in the stream’s murky slow-moving waters, along with snakes, crayfish, mussels and snapping turtles. On this overcast morning, the team collects water samples and checks submerged cages of fathead minnows for eggs.

“The fish will be spawning every few days and the eggs will be hatching in say, four or five days,” said Diana Papoulias, a biologist who works out of the U.S. Geological Survey Columbia (Mo.) Environmental Research Center. “So we need to catch them and collect the eggs, of course, the embryos, before they hatch.”

Goodwater Creek is one of a number of Missouri streams that this crew will visit this summer. After collecting samples, the scientists will test the water for hundreds of pesticides and nutrients used in farming. Similar teams of chemists, hydrologists, toxicologists and biologists are wading into other streams all across the Midwest – from Ohio to Nebraska – 100 streams in total. This is the first time scientists have tested for so many chemicals in a whole region’s waters or considered the impact of ag runoff on fish, frogs, bugs and algae at this scale.

The U.S. Geological Survey hopes to eventually use the findings from this study to make models that will calculate the concentrations of contaminants, nutrients and sediment in other Midwestern streams and predict how they will change the reproduction and development of fish, frogs, bugs and algae.

The study is costing the Geological Survey $6 million, including the time of about 60 scientists this summer. The group partnered with the Environmental Protection Agency to complete the assessment, which is contributing another $570,000.

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