Water quality expert: We can help protect water sources

Now and then we may read news reports about how the quality of the waters in our region is deteriorating and the negative impacts associated with that. But what is meant by water quality’ How is that quality measured in our rivers and lakes’ And how does what we do in our daily lives affect this water quality’ Dr. Leo Espinoza and Bryan Rigsby, Extension associates-water quality at the Texas A&M Research and Extension Center here, are managing a project to help area growers implement newly developed farming practices as related to fertilizer use. Espinoza said the term water quality describes “the chemical, physical and biological condition of a given body of water in relation to its suitability for a designated use.” Designated uses, Espinoza said, include public water supply, industrial water supply, recreation (fishing, swimming) and agriculture. “Water quality problems arise,” Espinoza said, “when the levels of a given chemical or disease-causing microorganism are above those levels considered safe for the intended purposes, with federal and state agencies having the responsibility of setting and enforcing the maximum levels of potential pollutants that can enter a water body.” Espinoza said water pollution is not caused by any one single sector of our community; all contribute by over-watering our lawns or applying excessive amounts of fertilizer and pesticides, by inadequately disposing of chemicals that are washed off streets, parking lots, construction sites, cars and trucks. Illegal dumping is another significant contributor to the pollution problem. Municipalities and industry contribute by discharging effluents rich in nutrients and organic matter. Agriculture runoff rich in sediments with associated nutrients and pesticides also contributes to the problem. Though the use of pesticides in agriculture is strictly regulated, problems still arise from misuse and careless handling, Espinoza said. How do these excess nutrients from urban and agricultural areas hurt’ They promote weed and algae growth, which consume the oxygen needed by fish and other aquatic organisms. Excessive pesticides and household chemicals that find their way into a stream may accumulate in fish tissue and harm the associated food chain. It’s not rare, Espinoza said, for the levels of disease-causing bacteria from urban runoff in some areas to be much higher than the maximum levels allowed for swimming designations. So, what can we do to protect and preserve our rivers and streams’ No one person can do it alone. It takes the decisive participation of all sectors of our community, to protect our water sources, Espinoza said. This effort should include awareness, education and funding. Regardless of which of the 254 counties of Texas a person lives in, he continued, there’s an extension office (usually at the county seat) teeming with information than can help. Advice ranges from how to properly and efficiently water and fertilize lawns to how to implement appropriate crop production practices. Get involved and be informed, Espinoza said. Contact the community water supplier and relevant community organizations and ask about their water conservation, recycling and toxic roundup programs. Water is an ever-increasingly precious commodity, Espinoza said. It’s up to all to protect it.

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