Influence of Agrochemical Mixtures on Treatment Wetland Ecosystems Services

Three Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute Faculty Fellows recently received a major award from the United States Department of Agriculture to study how agrochemical mixtures can be treated using engineered wetlands.

The project, “Influence of Agrochemical Mixtures on Treatment Wetland Ecosystems Services,” is led by Drs. Shannon Bartelt-Hunt, professor and chair, UNL Civil Engineering; Tiffany Messer, assistant professor, Biological Systems Engineering; and Daniel Snow, director of services at the Water Sciences Laboratory, part of the Nebraska Water Center. The four-year, $500,000 project began this summer and will run through mid-2022.

A key part of the project involves Messer’s mesoLAB on UNL’s East Campus. The lab investigates methods to improve best management practices to treat and/or remove contaminants introduced to the environment by humans. In this case, floating treatment wetlands – artificial wetlands constructed to increase the water quality of ponds and lakes – will be tested for their efficacy in filtering out contaminants.

“We’re going to look at how wetland systems remove nitrate, but also how antibiotics entering wetland systems may impact how well these systems can remove nitrate from the water,” Messer said.

Nitrate is the most common chemical contaminant in groundwater worldwide and major cause for drinking water impairment the U.S. and in Nebraska. In the agricultural Midwest, a large share of nitrate comes from nitrogen fertilizer applied to farm fields.

Soil samples will be collected from surface water bodies adjacent to the USDA’s Meat Animal Research Facility near Clay Center, Neb. The site will allow the team to study how antibiotics from cattle operations, as well as nitrification inhibitors from surrounding cropland, transform nitrogen chemistry. From there, cutting-edge instruments at the Water Sciences Lab will perform microbial, chemical and molecular analyses on the wetlands.

Ultimately, quantifying how these mixtures interact with wetlands and how wetlands absorb them is crucial to designing future versions that can protect water quality from agricultural runoff.