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Impact of agriculture on inland water ecosystem

Impact of agriculture on inland water ecosystem

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An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards (International Programme) Competition by Camille Troisi. Originally submitted for Science of Inland Waters at McGill University, with lecturer David Lewis in the category of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences
An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards (International Programme) Competition by Camille Troisi. Originally submitted for Science of Inland Waters at McGill University, with lecturer David Lewis in the category of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 31, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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10/27/2013

 
 1
Term Paper
Impact of agriculture on inland water ecosystemAbstractFreshwater systems are important for many organisms as a source of drinkable waterbut also as a habitat. However, water quality and the amount of ions and chemicals found ininland waters can be extremely affected by the presence of agricultural fields nearby. Thosechemicals and sediments can alter the natural properties of water and severely impactorganisms dependent on those water sources. Moreover, those impacts are seen not only inrivers nearby agricultural facilities, but the particles also infiltrate the soils and diffuse in groundwaters, therefore having repercussions much further away. Furthermore agriculture has animpact not only on the fauna and flora, water bodies and humans; it also has an importanteconomic cost such as the ones to reduce the levels of pollutants in those water bodies or theimpact on recreational activities (Skinner et al. 1997). Hence management systems of agricultural land are really important to reduce the impact on freshwater ecosystems (Skinner etal. 1997). In fact, compared with other land uses, agriculture and associated activities are moreclosely related to N and P loads to the environment (Dukes and Evans 2006; Chow et al 2011)leading to great water quality issues.As a result of all those factors, this paper will try and understand the different impactsagriculture has on inland water ecosystems and how it varies according to external elements.First we will look at how agriculture came to affect water bodies. Then we will specifically try tounderstand the impact of chemicals such as Nitrate and Phosphorous, and their role ineutrophication. After that, we will also reflect on the impact of irrigation, with a focus on theAral Sea as a case study. Subsequently we will also dwell upon the issue of erosion caused byagricultural practises. Then we will regard the fact that agricultural practises are not the only
 
 2problem of the equation, but many other external factors influence the quantity of impactsagriculture will have on water bodies. Finally we will analyse the improvements that can bemade to agricultural practises to minimise the impact of agriculture on inland water ecosystems.I.
 
Agricultural ImpactIn the last hundreds of years, the human population has drastically increased all aroundthe world. Therefore the pressure on food production systems has never been as high. Forinstance, in Africa, the huge human population increase has lead to a big land conversion fromnatural habitats to agriculture, deforestation and urbanisation to name a few (Chapman 2011).This lead to a large nutrient input from agricultural soil washouts which affected the quality of the water of Lake Victoria and its affluents (Chapman 2011). This water quality change can affectboth the fish stocks and the aquatic biodiversity (Chapman 2011). The increasing humanpopulation has also led to fishing pressures which has impacted the fish stocks and has led tospecies introduction, like the Nile Perch, which in turn affects aquatic biodiversity (Chapman2011).But in areas such as developing countries it is very hard to control the
agriculture’s
increasingproportion around water sources because those areas around freshwater naturally attractpeople for agricultural purposes because of the fertility of the land and the supply of water forirrigation purposes (Meredith 2011). Especially since access to water is a major issue in thosecountries.However, agriculture does not only have impacts on inland water ecosystems in developingcountries. It has been proven that in the United Kingdom, the main environmental impactagriculture has on water bodies concerns pesticides, nitrogen compounds, farm livestock and
 
 3soil erosion and associated nutrient losses (Skinner et al. 1997). In fact, it is fertilisers that arethe most common way agriculture affect water bodies.II.
 
Chemicals and NitrateAmong chemicals from agricultural fields, nitrogen and phosphorous are the biggestproblems, followed by potassium, calcium and magnesium (Chow et al. 2011). Thoseagrochemicals can find their way into either groundwater systems, through leaching, or surfacewater channels, through surface runoff processes (Chow et al. 2011). Agrochemical loss cancause great environmental problems, such as pollution of surface waters, which can lead toeutrophication and reduction of drinking water quality (Chow et al. 2011). Moreover, because of precipitation, fertilisers with high Nitrate concentration are washed up from the fields and endup in the water, and this has a cascading effect. First, the runoff will lead to the nitrification of the waters, and nitrification will allow the creation of algal blooms (NaFIRRI 2011). Those algalblooms will in turn affect the whole ecosystem, and particularly by decreasing the fishpopulation because they decrease the Oxygen (O2) concentration (NaFIRRI 2011). This is theprocess known as eutrophication.Important fertiliser concentration in aquatic systems will also lead to an increase of already fastgrowing species like the water hyacinth (Meredith 2011). This plant, because of it rapid growth,will choke fish and create stagnation because of its invasion of water surface. Therefore becauseof stagnation there will be an increase of snails containing the schistosomiasis parasite as well asan increase of mosquito population which will increase the risk of malaria, because bothorganisms do well in stagnant waters (Meredith 2011). Hence there can be important humanrisks associated with agricultural impact on inland water ecosystems.

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