Eutrophication caused by agricultural run off from nitrate fertilizers shows algae blooms in a drainage ditch in Suffolk, England, UK. Ian Murray / Loop Images / Corbis

By Tara Patel
13 March 2012

Water pollution from agriculture is costing billions of dollars a year in developed countries and is expected to increase in China and India as farmers race to increase food production, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said.

“Pollution from farm pesticides and fertilizers is often diffuse, making it hard to pin down exactly where it’s coming from,” Kevin Parris, author of a report from the Paris-based organization, said in an interview in Marseille. “In some big agricultural countries in Europe, like parts of France, Spain and the U.K., the situation is deteriorating.”

In some regions of China, pollution of waterways from agriculture may already have reached the point where it may trigger health problems in people, he said.

The OECD report is part of a series of studies published this week to coincide with the World Water Forum in Marseille. Ministers, industry representatives and non-government organizations are discussing resource management, waste, health risks and climate change at the meeting. Pollution from farming is gaining prominence as the global population increases, raising demand for food and putting strain on water resources.

Fertilizers such as nitrates and phosphates as well as pesticides that run off farms can contaminate drinking water, harm aquatic life and result in eutrophication, or a proliferation of plants that reduces oxygen content in water and eliminates other sea life, according to the study.

“The number of lakes at risk of harmful algal blooms will increase by 20 percent in the first half of this century,” the OECD said. By 2050 the nitrogen surpluses per hectare from agriculture are forecast to drop in OECD member countries and rise in China and India

Costs from agricultural pollution include money spent treating water to remove nitrates, phosphates and pesticide chemicals as well as paying farmers to store manure safely and block contamination from reaching waterways, according to the study. Environmental contamination such as algal blooms also adds to the bill. […]

Water Pollution Rises From Farms, Costing Billions

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