Environmental Quality and Waste Management at OSU

EQWM Focus Areas

CloudAir Quality is a continuing priority concern for animal production systems and for human residences.  Research and extension programs are needed to address the control of odor emissions from swine facilities and other animal operations and to improve and protect indoor air quality. 

Emerging Contaminants and Pesticides is an area that can be addressed on the research and extension side.  Specific human-related tracers such as caffeine, antibiotics, plasticizers, hormones and hormone derivatives, and human health and beauty products are important in research to determine the source of contaminates and their impact on ecosystems. The identification of these contaminates and interpreting their detection can provide information necessary for fair and effective rules to protect the ecosystem, human health. Such studies are important to production agriculture as they may affect agricultural production practices.

Landscapes and the Environment , also known as Low Impact Development (LID), is a concept gaining favor around the country to reduce the environmental impact of construction and development of urban and rural infrastructure.  In recent years, urban and suburban pollution associated with construction and development has been identified as one of the most important sources of pollution of water bodies.  Using the LID approach, vegetation and improved hydrologic design promote infiltration and remove pollutants near the source, replacing large engineered stormwater structures with smaller, more natural pollution control units that fit the landscape and require less maintenance and attention from public officials.  The LID approach is expected to improve both aesthetics and performance, reducing many of the negative impacts on urban streams and other water bodies.  Improved stormwater management systems such as LID could be a significant advantage to protection and proper utilization of rural and urban Oklahoma.

Municipal Waste Management:  Over the past ten years Oklahoma has made significant advances in control and management of its solid waste problems.  Many substandard landfills have been closed and many roadside dumps have been identified and cleaned up.  Some counties have instituted a “trash” cop program that has significantly reduced roadside dumping.  Extension has played an important role assisting communities with education and planning, but a great deal of continuing education is still needed.  In addition new waste management problems must be addressed in the future such as biomedical wastes, electronic wastes, and the problem of disposal of hazardous materials.  The pesticide container recycling program, essential to proper management of agricultural chemicals, recycles 30,000 to 80,000 lb of plastic each year at no cost to producers.  It is thought this could double in the near future.

Nutrient Management In Eastern Oklahoma and other areas of the state where manure has been used extensively as fertilizer for pasture, grain, vegetable, or horticultural crops, there has been a substantial buildup of P in the soil.  In many cases these high-P soils are sources of pollution for Oklahoma lakes and rivers.  Crops and cropping systems to mine P from high P-soils and alternative management can reduce the impact of these soils on water quality.  This area needs significant attention from both research and extension.  Improved nutrient management practices for fertility management and decision tools such as the PPM Calculator are needed to maintain crop production, utilizing excess phosphorus, and protecting water quality.

Small Scale Water Supply and Wastewater Management: Content will be forthcoming.

FishStream Restoration/Rehabilitation is an often unrecognized but nonetheless important priority for both urban and rural environments.  The consequences of previous generations of improper agricultural production, urban construction, and oil and gas development practices have left many of Oklahoma’s streams in poor condition.  Many miles of streams in Oklahoma and the nation have impaired water quality because of degraded stream channels.  Streams are often deeply incised and separated from their flood plains; flood plains are often converted to the development of home sites and commercial enterprises and not allowed to perform their natural function as flood relief and energy dissipation areas.  The result is rapidly eroding stream channels with degraded or nonexistent aquatic communities and in some cases threatens landowner and public investments.  Many times the consequences of poor management are also expressed miles down stream from the original site, in the form of increased flooding and the silting in of lakes.  Degraded streams and surrounding riparian ecosystems have a reduced capability to assimilate nutrients and other pollutants, thereby exacerbating water quality problems.  Research and extension programs are needed to develop systems to protect relatively unimpacted streams, to restore the proper functioning of degraded streams and to mitigate the impact of previous abuses, putting in place new ways of viewing and working with streams which will avoid similar problems in the future.

Field Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resources is a priority area that overlaps with the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative Team. The EQ & WM Team is concerned primarily with the environmental consequences of agriculture and promotes alternative practices that protect and sustain environmental values in addition to the production values. The priority issues are crop rotation and minimum tillage, reduced chemical use in production systems, and applying indigenous knowledge for community-based sustainable production systems.

SplashWaste Management:  Manure and other by-products animal production are significant sources of phosphorus, nitrogen, organic matter, and other potential pollutants, particularly in Eastern Oklahoma watersheds.  Currently this area has more than 700 broiler farms with capacity for more than 56 million birds and producing about 300,000 tons of litter annually.  This litter can be either a liability or a benefit, depending on whether it must be disposed as a waste or utilized as a soil amendment or energy resource, or feedstock for some other process.  There is strong evidence that the production of forage in Northeastern Oklahoma has been enhanced by poultry waste by-products.  These potential benefits need to be utilized more safely in conservation systems and the waste needs to be transported to other areas and utilized where soils are deficient in both phosphorus and organic matter.  Research needs include studies of the economics of transportation, disposal, and recycling to the land.  Generally the impact of nitrogen from poultry litter is ignored in light of the bigger issue of phosphorus; however, high nitrogen concentration in ground water is also a concern in Northeastern Oklahoma.  
Although these materials are viewed as pollutants, they also have considerable potential for raising the fertility of Oklahoma soils. Research is needed to provide practical guidelines for landowners and applicators and identify management practices that will assure the nutrients and organic matter can be recycled without degradating the environment.

Water Literacy: This is a recently added focus area.  Content will be forthcoming.

Water Resource Conservation, Management and Policy: Water supply and water use is an area growing in importance to Oklahoma and other states of the region.  It will require significant investment for research and public policy education with emphasis in the areas of public policy and economics as well as the physical and engineering sciences.  Pressures on Oklahoma’s water resource come from competing interests of both rural and urban sectors.  Significant changes are expected due to global climate change, population growth, and rural development.  The public policy issues is complicated by the longstanding tradition that ground water ownership is a personal property right and, therefore, different from surface water, which can be allocated by the state.  Such issues along with conservation, pollution control, and water supply development may be the predominant issues for the economic future of rural Oklahoma. 

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