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Fertilizer Run-Off Causing Trouble for Midwest Water Supplies

Nitrates Polluting Community Water Resources
Nitrates Polluting Community Water Resources

Farmers use nitrogen fertilizer on their fields to grow bigger, better crops. But when there’s too many nitrates left behind in the soil, it can pollute the water supplies of farms and nearby towns. It’s becoming  a major problem for small communities throughout Kansas and the rest of the Midwestern farm belt. Bruce Dvorak studies small town water systems at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. He says some small communities are stretching their budgets to remove nitrates from the water supply. "For many small towns this is a very major cost issue." Dvorak says. "It may mean water rates, if they're lucky only double. In some cases it may go up by eight to ten times.” Recently the city of Des Moines, Iowa sued nearby farmers to recover some of the expense of removing nitrates from the city’s water. That suit is working through the courts now. Many farmers are now starting to change their fertilizing practices, using fewer nitrates and seeking safer alternatives but water experts say significant improvements in groundwater quality could take 20-to-30 years.

This story was produced by Grant Gerlock of Harvest Public Media, a reporting collaborative focusing on agriculture and rural issues in the Midwest.

Harvest Public Media is a reporting collaboration focused on issues of food, fuel and field. Based at KCUR in Kansas City, Harvest covers these agriculture-related topics through an expanding network of reporters and partner stations throughout the Midwest. Global demand for food and fuel is rising, and the push and pull for resources has serious ramifications for our country’s economic prosperity. What’s more, we all eat, so we all have a stake in how our food is produced In the Midwest, in particular, today’s emerging agenda for agriculture is headlined by climate change, food safety, biofuel production, animal welfare, water quality, and sustainability. By examining these local, regional and national issues and their implications with in-depth and unbiased reporting, Harvest is filling a critical information void. Most Harvest Public Media stories begin with radio — regular reports are aired on our member stations in the Midwest. But Harvest also explores issues through online analyses, television documentaries and features, podcasts, photography, video, blogs and social networking. We are committed to the highest journalistic standards. Click here to read our ethics policy.