April’s Ag Advice

April's Ag Advice by April Borders Water, the most abundant of all chemical compounds, is necessary for all living things. It is an essential ingredient of all living organisms and a major component of our environment.

Water and ice cover about 75 percent of the earth's surface and water vapor is an important part of our atmosphere.

The demand for water is constantly increasing. An average American uses from 70 to 100 gallons of water a day at home for bathing, laundry, drinking, cooking, etc.

Approximately 42 percent of all the water used on the continent of North America is needed to supply power to run factories, businesses, and our homes. Much of this power is used for cooling and air conditioning.

Industry accounts for 14 percent of the water used on our continent. Water is required for many goods we enjoy.

For example, seven gallons of water are required to refine a single gallon of gasoline. Eighty gallons of water are required to produce each Sunday newspaper.

Irrigation accounts for 37 percent of the water used on our continent. It may include flooding or ditching techniques, overhead sprinkling, diking of fields or maintaining a constant drip. Agriculture depends on water for crops and livestock.

Industries, homeowners, mining, acid rain, air pollution, and agriculture can all contribute to water quality contamination. Water allowed to run off unstopped can pick up chemicals, soil, manure, fertilizers, pesticides, used oil, toxic substances and street debris. If left unchecked, it may carry contaminants into nearby surface waters or groundwaters beneath the surface.

Water quality is a vitally important issue for everyone and because of its importance, water quality regulations have been put into place to protect our water.

In the early '70s there was a widespread concern over the poor quality and condition of the nation's water and Congress passed the federal Clean Water Act of 1972. In 1974, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed the regulations that establish the basic requirements that feedlot operators have to meet today. In the 1980s and early 1990s, the state began to develop a program that met all federal requirements so the state Department of Environmental and Natural Resources (DENR) could implement the program in South Dakota instead of the EPA. The state adopted laws and regulations that met the minimum requirements established by Congress and the EPA and in 1993 the EPA gave South Dakota the authority to administer the program in South Dakota.

In 1996, the DENR worked cooperatively with the South Dakota Pork Producers Council, many other ag groups and local governments in drafting a proposed general permit that would apply to only swine feeding operations. This permit became effective on Feb. 1, 1997. Because of the success of that permit, a second permit was developed to cover other types of livestock feeding operations. This permit became effective Feb. 10, 1998.

Livestock producers must acknowledge that improper handling of manure can result in manure becoming a pollutant and degrading the water quality of the state's rivers, lakes and groundwater. Today, environmental concerns and tight profit margins have forced livestock producers to reevaluate their manure handling programs. Proper storage and application is compatible with recommended control measures.

Because farmers and ranchers are concerned about water quality, they continually improve their practices. Farmers are developing better ways to test their soil so they don't over fertilize their fields, which means they purchase less fertilizer and reduce the potential for runoff into streams and ponds. It is in their best interest to keep streams clean and unpolluted. Livestock producers are designing feedlots so that animal wastes do not contaminate groundwater. Farmers are protecting water quality by using integrated pest management techniques, keeping chemicals away from wells and using good soil conservation techniques.

Information sources: 10 Most Asked Questions about the General Permit Process � SD DENR; Environmental Training for South Dakota Livestock Producers � SDSU; Caretakers All.

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