From the IWC Director: Water Quality – Why Such a Challenge?

On July 26, IWC Director Rick Cruse presented to about 150 attendees at the Arkansas Water Resources Center’s Annual Conference. The theme of the conference was “Nutrients, Water Quality and Harmful Algal Blooms.” Dr. Cruse spoke during the opening general session in a presentation entitled “Water Quality – Why Such a Challenge?” The following is a summary of what he told our downstream friends in Arkansas.

Why is water quality such a challenge?  A few simple concepts help recognize why this challenge exists.

We know that water added to a pail filled water will be lost.

We know that complex systems are more difficult to understand and manage than simple ones.

We also know that activities favoring economics of an individual may not favor natural resources or the general population.

And finally, to be a champion one must be willing to identify a goal and be committed to meet that goal.

Transposing these concepts to agriculture is quite simple.  Adding nutrients to a landscape that has had repeated nutrient additions and does not have the capacity to hold additional nutrients will likely lose those nutrients as a full pail loses water added to it.  Managing nutrients in agricultural systems is incredibly complex; elements of this complex system range from policy influencing human management choices to highly variable weather systems.

Understanding these elements independently is difficult, understanding how they interact is incredibly challenging.  Management practices that favor maximum short term economic returns require short term management choices; managing natural resources such as water requires a long term vision.  Short term profit motives seldom support long term water quality goals.

Finally, if we want improved water quality, we must make water quality a committed goal and not just an add-on to a system that we know to be very leaky.