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Running head: HAZARDOUS RUNOFF 1

Hazardous Runoff

Leslie Werchan

COMD 350


Before putting sustenance into one’s mouth, he or she should think about from where it

came and what conditions it endured. This idea was the main theme in Kingsolver’s book,

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. Kingsolver (2008) wrote about her family’s

year of purposeful consumption including seasonal, heirloom vegetables, and heritage breeds.

Kingsolver wrote about visiting area farmer’s markets where they would purchase what they did

not grow themselves. They were conscientious about consuming organic, ripe produce

describing the depth of flavor they encapsulated. By growing seasonally, refraining from

chemical fertilizers and insecticides, the Kingsolver family took care of the land and was well


Current American farming practices were the focus of Food, Inc. (Kenner, 2008), a

documentary debunking the picturesque farms that many Americans believe stock grocery store

shelves. The horrendous conditions large corporate farm animals endure as well as the cheap

feed they consume are violations to nature.

Harmful algal blooms (HAB) invading large bodies of water is another chapter related to

healthy eating. The organic methods bolstered in Kingsolver’s book inhibit HAB growth since

harmful chemicals are not contaminating runoff. Kingsolver provided positive farming habits, as

well as Food, Inc. However, much of Food, Inc. demonstrated the corrupted side of farming. The

farming practices by large corporations shown in Food, Inc. contribute to nutrient pollution

which trickles down to water sources. These are the practices that have caused a rise in HABs,

and more commonly, cyanoHABs (CHABs), within many American fresh water sources vital to

human and animal survival. This paper details the changes to the environment causing these

invasions and solutions to the problem.


Hazardous Runoff

America is a nation founded on agriculture. Native Americans worked the soil, planting

seasonal crops, using natural fertilizers and respecting the land. Fast forwarding to current

agricultural practices on the same soil, American farmers have put business ahead of natural

resources. They focus mainly on corn and soy crops due to government subsidies. Chemicals are

used as fertilizers and insecticides instead of natural resources. Over time, the use of these harsh

chemicals has created a resistance in insects and a contamination of the soil. Any remaining

residue runs off the soil contaminating creeks and water ways. Harmful algal blooms (HABs)

thrive on the imbalance, multiplying rapidly and harming wildlife and humans.

There are many species of algae. These natural occurring organisms grow in moist

conditions often creating a layer of film on surfaces. They produce energy through

photosynthesis like plants. Algae in small numbers are not visible and are harmless. “Harmful”

(n.d.) stated, “Algae are always present in natural bodies of water …, but only a few types can

produce toxins”. Cyanobacteria Microcystis is exploding in the United States’ fresh water

sources. “This organism produces a liver toxin that can cause gastrointestinal illness as well as

liver damage” (“Harmful”, n.d.). Once Microcystis can thrive and multiply rapidly, they look like

a blue-green slick of oil paint on the water’s surface. This colony is known as a cyanoHAB

(CHAB). Levy (2017) explained, “Although cyanobacteria are often referred to as “blue-green

algae,” they are not, in fact, algae. Similarly, although blooms of Microcystis and other

cyanobacteria species may be lumped in with other HABs, they are more properly known as

cyanobacterial HABs, or cyanoHAB” (Microcystis on Top, para. 1).

The harm caused by these toxins are wide reaching, even prompting the declaration of a

state of emergency by Florida’s governor in 2016 due to an algal bloom that spread from

Photo: “This June 29, 2016

aerial photo shows blue-green
algae in an area along the St.
Lucie River in Stuart, Fla.”
(Flesher & Kastanis, 2017)

Lake Okeechobee into estuaries. Florida isn’t the only state affected. Flesher and Kastanis (2017)

wrote, “More than 100 people fell ill after swimming in Utah’s largest freshwater lake. Pets and

livestock have died after drinking algae-laced water …” (para. 7). As CHABs spread, the colony

blocks light from reaching aquatic plants which die as a result. The decomposing plant life

creates a dead zone; an area where oxygen is depleted and fish cannot survive (Levy, 2017, An

Initial Focus on Phosphorus, para. 1). Tourism and recreation are also affected by the presence of

an over population of Microcystis. This hurts the economy, while awareness keeps people and

pets safe.

Because CHABs have continued to invade America’s fresh water sources at alarming

rates, scientists are zeroing in on some of the common causes. Cyanobacteria Microcystis is a

naturally occurring organism in these waters, which pose little threat in normal numbers.

However, these bacteria thrive in a nutrient-polluted environment. Schipanski et al. (2014) wrote,

“… excess nitrogen inputs can increase nitrate pollution in streams and groundwater and nitrous

oxide emissions to the atmosphere, thereby impacting air and water quality regulation” (Services

related to crop and soil C and N, para. 1). Along with nitrogen, phosphorus provides an ideal

environment for CHABs to prosper. Levy (2017) wrote, “… adding a combination of phosphorus

and nitrogen could quickly turn a pristine lake into a green soup …” Levy (2017) explained

further that the bacteria can use nitrogen from the air, so the introduction of phosphorus has a

greater impact on the growth of these organisms (An Initial Focus on Phosphorus, para. 3).

The isolation of contributing factors to the explosion of CHABs in fresh water, including

phosphorus, helps with implementing solutions. Early detection is the starting point. Bullerjahn

et al. (2016) wrote that enzyme linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) is used to test water

samples for CHABs, providing early detection (Bloom and toxin detection, para. 2). “Buoy

systems are routinely equipped with optical sensors for cyanobacterial pigments and their

deployment in areas prone to blooms can provide an early alert for cyanobacterial blooms

(Bloom and toxin detection, para. 3). These two early detection systems are costly and used for

large bodies of water, Bullerjahn, et al (2016) included inexpensive hand-held fluorometers and

qualitative “dip-stick” assays that can quickly measure if cyanobacteria Microcystis are present

(Bloom and toxin detection, para. 4).

It is encouraging to know there are tests to determine the early formation of CHABs, but

keeping the bacteria at normal levels is ideal. Since nitrogen and phosphorus are key ingredients

to the outbreak of CHABs, preventing nutrient pollution is paramount. One must return to the

American farming industry. Reporter for the Port Clinton News Herald, Jon Stinchcomb (2017)

wrote, “Best management practices, or BMPs, for nutrient management have since stressed the

importance of farmers determining the right fertilizer source applied at the right rate, at the right

time, and in the right place” (para. 7). Due to heavy rains, fertilizer and pesticides tends to run

off fields into streams and creeks that carry the chemicals to larger fresh water sources. If

farmers apply fertilizer in a more purposeful manner, not only would it reduce the amount that

runs off the soil, but in doing so, it would also save the farmer money.

Applying fertilizers and pesticides in a timely, effective manner will help with runoff

management, but there are other steps farmers can take to decrease the amount of nutrient

pollution that enters fresh water sources. Nathan Hurst, communications professor at the

University of Missouri, (2016) wrote, “… scientists suggest farmers use buffers between crops

and trees; this technique reduces soil runoff and maintains good growing conditions, creating

economic benefits for farmers and, ultimately, for society in general” (para. 1). Even though

trees provide a quality buffer, the shade can impede the growth of certain crops, such as corn.

Planting rows of another staple like soy next to the buffer is an option. The combination of

sensible chemical applications and maintenance of a field buffer will lessen the amounts of

nitrogen and phosphorus finding their way to fresh water and the cyanobacteria Microcystis that


Separate from farming practices, but vital to filtering runoff, is the construction of

wetlands. Bullerjahn et al. (2016) described the use of wetlands and retention ponds as good

“land management strategies” (Mitigation of blooms and CHAB management, para. 4). Southern

Florida is known for its wetlands. It is environmentally sound to keep the Everglades as nature

intended to help filter what man has done to the land and water from reaching the ocean.

Once a fresh water source has an outbreak of CHABs, there are some techniques that help

mitigate the cyanobacteria. Bullerjahn et al (2016) wrote, “Artificial mixing can lead to a shift in

phytoplankton composition from cyanobacterial dominance to green algae and diatoms if the

imposed mixing is strong enough to keep the cyanobacteria entrained in the turbulent flow

(Mitigation of blooms and CHAB management, para. 8). He added that hydrogen peroxide

introduced to small bodies of water can alleviate cyanobacteria. These methods can reduce the

effects of CHABs. However, prevention is the key.


Americans often take clean water for granted. To have a glass of water, one must simply

turn the faucet. Because of unusual, but becoming more common, rapid growth of cyanobacteria

Microcystis blooms in many fresh water sources, warnings about drinking the water as well as

fishing, swimming and other recreational activities will become more prevalent. This is

everyone’s problem. It is easy to blame the American farmer, but the attitudes of the many

citizens that these resources have no expiration, and that businesses can continue without

repercussions is false. The agricultural industry will be forced to make changes when the people

demand it. Kingsolver and her family had it right, eating in season, organic gardening and being

good stewards of the land is everyone’s responsibility.



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