Increased focus on addressing non-point source (NPS) pollution throughout the U.S. has raised awareness of agriculture’s impact on water quality. Growers are being asked to voluntarily limit the effects of their operations on adjacent waterways through programs such those initiated by county Farm Bureaus. If pollution cannot be voluntarily controlled, growers may face mandatory regulatory actions in the future. Maintaining water quality is an ongoing challenge in the Monterey Bay watershed, where industry, urban development, and farming all affect sensitive waterways. Excess nitrogen and phosphorous, herbicides, insecticides, and sediments that end up in sloughs and wetlands surrounding Monterey Bay have compromised water quality, contaminated shellfish, birds, and other wildlife, and generated unsafe levels of nitrate in drinking water.
Although nutrient contamination is well recognized, to date there have been few efforts to link water quality with land uses such as urban development and farming in the region. To determine the way that land uses affect nitrogen and phosphorous concentrations in central coast waterways, researchers Marc Los Huertos, Lowell Gentry, and Carol Shennan have monitored water flow and sampled water quality in the Pajaro River and in other Pajaro Valley and Elkhorn Slough watershed creeks and agricultural drainages, for the past two water years (October 2000–September 2002). The research takes place through the UC Santa Cruz Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (the Center) and is part of a larger U.S. Department of Agriculture grant awarded to Center director Shennan. This water quality monitoring program was developed in cooperation with the Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau, local Resource Conservation Districts, and other groups.
We are particularly interested in the concentrations of two nutrients, nitrogen (nitrate-N) and phosphorus (ortho-P, also known as soluble reactive phosphorus), that are components of non-point source (NPS) pollution originating from urban and agricultural land uses.