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Report: Almost half of U.S. waterways in poor condition; nutrient runoff a concern

January 23, 2024  By Drainage Contractor

Despite efforts across the industry, a December assessment from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found that the country’s rivers and streams are facing difficulties associated with nutrient runoff. The assessment is based on samples collected in 2018 and 2019, as it takes several years for the agency to compile the results and release the report. This is the third report of its kind. Compared to previous years, phosphorus levels are slightly lower, while nitrogen levels remain almost exactly the same.

Nationally, 28 percent of river and stream miles were reported to be in good biological condition. However, almost half were in poor condition – excess nitrogen levels were found in 44 percent, and phosphorus in 42 percent. Excess riparian vegetation cover was found in 27% of river and stream miles. The roughly half of river miles that are in poor condition result in affected habitats for snails, worms, beetles and other bottom dwelling species, and a third of river miles had poor conditions for fish.

Reduction of excess nutrient levels flowing into streams could be the key to preserving or repairing quality.

“The NRSA found that the percentage of river and stream miles in poor biological condition could be reduced by 20% if excess nutrient levels could be reduced from poor to good or fair,” said the report. Tougher regulations on livestock industries could be key to reducing pollution. Other methods to prevent or lessen runoff include building buffers between farmland and waterways, creating new wetlands to filter pollutants and applying less fertilizer.


Read the full report here.

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