News Feature | September 15, 2017

Report: Climate Change To Exacerbate Nitrogen Pollution

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

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Already widespread, nitrogen contamination of environmental waters is on the rise, according to a major study published this summer in the journal Science.

“Without acting to reduce carbon emissions or polluted runoff, nitrogen loading in rivers will increase by nearly 20 percent within the continental U.S. by the end of the century. In regions that historically have struggled with nutrient pollution — like the Northeast, upper Mississippi River basin, and the Great Lakes — nitrogen loading could increase by as much as 28 percent,” the Natural Resources Defense Council reported in its “experts blog,” citing the Science study.

Climate change is expected to make it more difficult to reduce nitrogen pollution of waterways, the study found.

“As warming temperatures lead to increases in precipitation, more nitrogen, one of those nutrients feeding [algal blooms], will be washed into the nation’s waterways. The biggest increases in such nitrogen loading will likely come in the Midwest and Northeast, areas already seeing the biggest uptick in heavy downpours. The findings show the urgency of coming up with policies to reduce nutrient overloads, and the importance of keeping climate change in mind when devising them,” Climate Central reported, citing the study.

One of the study’s major takeaways surrounds how water managers should cope with the reality of nitrogen pollution.

“The study makes clear that local managers and policymakers will need to rethink some of the ways they combat nutrient pollution and society will also have to develop technological solutions to reduce nutrient pollution, from implementing more efficient agricultural practices to potentially recycling various forms of nitrogen in sewage into animal feed,” Climate Central reported, citing a commentary piece also published in Science.

The study added that “solutions may be found by drawing on decarbonization efforts in the energy sector.”

To read more about nitrogen pollution visit Water Online’s Nutrient Removal Solutions Center.

Image credit: "Agricultural runoff," eutrophication&hypoxia © 1999, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: