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Setting priorities for research on pollution reduction functions of agricultural buffers




Publication type:

Scientific Journal (JRNL)

Primary Station(s):

Southern Research Station


Environmental Management, Vol. 30(5): 641-660


The success of buffer installation initiatives and programs to reduce nonpoint source pollution of streams on agricultural lands will depend the ability of local planners to locate and design buffers for specific circumstances with substantial and predictable results. Current predictive capabilities are inadequate, and major sources of uncertainty remain. An assessment of these uncertainties cautions that there is greater risk of overestimating buffer impact than underestimating it.

Priorities for future research are proposed that will lead more quickly to major advances in predictive capabilities. Highest priority is given for work on the surface runoff filtration function, which is almost universally important to the amount of pollution reduction expected from buffer installation and for which there remain major sources of uncertainty for predicting level of impact. Foremost uncertainties surround the extent and consequences of runoff flow concentration and pollutant accumulation. Other buffer functions, including filtration of groundwater nitrate and stabilization of channel erosion sources of sediments, may be important in some regions. However, uncertainty surrounds our ability to identify and quantify the extent of site conditions where buffer installation can substantially reduce stream pollution in these ways.

Deficiencies in predictive models reflect gaps in experimental information as well as technology to account for spatial heterogeneity of pollutant sources, pathways, and buffer capabilities across watersheds. Since completion of a comprehensive watershed-scale buffer model is probably far off, immediate needs call for simpler techniques to gage the probable impacts of buffer installation at local scales.


Dosskey, Michael G. 2002. Setting priorities for research on pollution reduction functions of agricultural buffers. Environmental Management, Vol. 30(5): 641-660

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