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ASU researcher maps farm drainage networks to conserve water

June 26, 2023  By Bobbi Ramirez, ASU Full Circle

When you think about farms, you may think about fruits, vegetables, cows or chickens. However, common byproducts of farms are nitrogen and phosphorus caused by the excess use of pesticides, herbicides, fertilizer and animal waste.

Some may consider those byproducts to have an insignificant impact on the environment when thinking of a single small farm. Yet, collectively, the impact of farming can cause what’s known as a “dead zone,” or when high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus kill fish and wildlife in large bodies of water and cause harmful algal blooms that are toxic to humans. Water pollution from agricultural runoff is one factor in the complex challenge of managing water resources and conservation efforts.

As water conservation efforts increase worldwide, Ruijie Zeng, an assistant professor of civil, environmental and sustainable engineering in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, part of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University, recognizes the need for improved mapping of agricultural drainage networks and natural rivers to upscale water management practices on farms.

While a doctoral student at the University of Illinois, Zeng can recall taking bike rides through the countryside and seeing runoff from farms so heavily polluted that it had changed the water’s color.


“We are environmental engineers. We have to engage with the environment,” Zeng says about how he finds issues to solve. “I always tell my students, ‘Go hiking, see the natural ecosystem and come back.’” | READ MORE

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