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Geological Survey releases system offering models on nutrient pollution action

The United States Geological Survey has released an interactive online decision support system that allows users access to six newly developed regional models describing how rivers receive and transport nutrients from natural and human sources to sensitive waters.

The SPARROW (SPAtially Referenced Regressions On Watershed attributes) system models have been developed for seven large regions of the U.S., and can be used to compare nutrient sources and watersheds in areas such as the South Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico.

The model was developed by the Geological Survey’s National Water Quality Assessment Program, which “provides information about water-quality conditions and how natural features and human activities affect those conditions.” Federal, regional and state agencies have used the SPARROW model results to inform water-quality management decisions.

“A majority of the nation’s estuaries are moderately to highly impacted by nutrient pollution which threatens living resource habitats, causes oxygen-depleted ‘dead zones’ and can fuel harmful algae blooms,” said Dr. Robert Magnien, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research, in a press release. “This USGS decision support system represents a major advance in the availability of sound scientific information to enable the effective management of this growing threat to our valued coastal resources and economies.”

The SPARROW system allows users to evaluate sources of nutrients (including industry runoff), and examine how specifically they contribute to water pollution.

“For example,” reads the press release, “the decision support system indicates that reducing wastewater discharges throughout the Neuse River Basin in North Carolina by 25 percent will reduce the amount of nitrogen transported to the Pamlico Sound from the Neuse River Basin by three percent; whereas a 25 percent reduction in agricultural sources, such as fertilizer and manure, will reduce the amount of nitrogen by 12 percent.”

In Florida, excessive nutrient pollution has proven to be an enormous problem — one that leads to large-scale algal blooms and fish kills. Despite the fact that these blooms hurt local economies and can impact the health of Floridians, lawmakers and industry leaders are fighting tooth-and-nail against a set of EPA standards that aim to combat nutrient pollution.

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