Low aquifers a concern for farmers
by Kevin Pearson
Jul 31, 2013 | 2253 views | 0 0 comments | 32 32 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Dr. Dean Pennington, executive director of Yazoo-Mississippi Delta Joint Water Management District, discussed Delta water resource issues with those present at the Delta Area Young Farmer Emerging Issues Conference hosted by the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation recently at the Monsanto in Scott.

He said all water in Mississippi is owned by the state and, through a permit system, people are allowed to use it and of all the permits in the state, 75 percent are used in the Delta for agriculture.

According to Pennington, about three million acres of land in Mississippi is farmed, and of that, two million acres is irrigated.

He said there are two aquifers in Mississippi.

The higher aquifer, closest to the surface, is used for irrigation and the lower aquifer is used for drinking water due to the better natural filtration and better taste.

These two aquifers were thought to be separate, but according to Pennington, research is being conducted to see if they are actually separated.

He said this could cause a big problem if they are connected because the two aquifers would be competing with each other and water management would get more complicated.

Due to the high use of ground water, the higher aquifer is not being recharged by the Mississippi River, results in a gradual decline in groundwater each year.

The overdraft of the aquifer accounts for 15 percent of the total water used for agricultural.

Over the past five to 10 years, according to Pennington, there has been a loss of about 300,000 to 400,000 acre feet per year of water.

Another problem is that the aquifers are so low that they are unable to recharge streams during dry spells.

“The good part is that there really are a lot of solutions,” said Pennington. “The old way of doing business just won’t get us across the finish. We have to get more creative and aggressive.”

Some of the solutions to combat the decline of groundwater include conservations efforts like using four irrigations instead of five, or by running a well 25 hours instead of 30 hours to complete irrigation.

If Mississippi reduces its water usage by 15 percent, then it will be closer to having a sustainable water supply.

“Through conservation practices, 15 percent is not unrealistic. It’s not easy but it’s doable,” said Pennington.

Other options include the use of re-lifts to reuse the water runoff of fields, on farm water storage, weirs, the use of flood control reservoirs and the use of the Mississippi River itself.

“Everyone must be a part of the solution,” said Pennington.

Following Pennington, Andy Whittington, the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation’s environmental affairs coordinator and member of the EPA Pesticide Policy Dialogue Committee, reported to the group on the Numeric Nutrient Standards and issues related to pollinators and pesticides.

The Numeric Nutrient Standards is a program to ensure water quality in streams.

Instead of deeming a streams healthy by whether or not biological organisms live in it or not, the numeric nutrient criteria will require measurements of nitrogen and phosphorous to prevent adverse affects in the streams.

These can cause excess algae bloom and when it sinks to the bottom of the stream and decomposes it will cause low dissolved oxygen, which in turn causes problems for the fish.

The reason for the switch to the Numeric Nutrient Standards is because of a push from environmental agencies, according to Whittington.

This will make it possible to assess the streams health by taking a reading of the water.

If the nitrogen and phosphorous levels get past a certain point, you could be sued and the state will have to come up with an implementation plan to get the stream healthy again.

Other reasons for the switch to this new system is because the EPA sees that Mississippi will get a lot of money from the BP oil spill that they view as a clean water act and the fact that Mississippi is at the bottom of the Mississippi River Basin.

This is important because the water north of Mississippi eventually runs down to Mississippi bringing all of the toxins with it.

The states north of Mississippi will have to set their criteria at or lower than that of Mississippi’s criteria to ensure the water is not overly polluted when it reaches Mississippi.

To make sure that this doesn’t happen, farmers may have to increase buffer widths and limit times of fertilizer application.

Whittington also briefly talked about the pesticide and pollinator issues.

Some of the issues are residual toxicity and spray drift.

The residual toxicity refers to how long a pesticide remains toxic after it is sprayed and the percent of the bees that will be killed that come into contact with it.

Beekeepers suggested spraying pesticides at night while the bees are asleep to reduce the number of bees lost, which could be difficult for farmers to do.

The spray drift is when herbicide or pesticide spray drifts with the wind while being run through a fogger, which is also killing bees and becoming a problem.

“Bees need agriculture because of the blooms and some agriculture needs bees because they pollinate the crops,” said Whittington. “We’re going to have to work together more with the beekeeping community because as Farm Bureau we’re a general farming organization and we represent all crops and all commodities. We’re going to have to find a common ground.”