‘Settling the waters’ may be one of tools for addressing water conservation, runoff issues in Delta

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Could a material called polyacrylamide or PAM become one of the tools that could help Mississippi Delta growers address the issues of a declining Delta alluvial aquifer and nutrient runoff into the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico?

The Delta Sustainable Water Resources Task Force and the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service are working to determine if it can, and the organizations and several farmers and companies are working with PAM to try to determine if the compound could address those issues and help improve crop yields.

Representatives of those groups met at A&J Planting Co. near Tunica, Miss., recently to see a demonstration of what polyacrylamide can do in both furrow and center pivot sprinkler irrigation systems under actual Delta field conditions.

PAM has been used for years to treat wastewater in cities around the world and in the West to help with water flow in irrigation ditches and canals. As many as 500 million people enjoy the benefits of PAM in having cleaner water leave their wastewater treatment plants.

“So we know the value of water, and we are intimately involved in trying to find ways in which our technology can help to conserve water, can help to improve the quality of runoff and we are optimistic that in this particular application that it might also help improve yields,” said Peter Nichols, president of SNF Holding Co., a manufacturer of polyacrylamide.

Will Griffin, agriculture business manager for SNF, performed a flocculation test for attendees of the field day. The test demonstrates how quickly solids can settle out of a sample of irrigation water treated with PAM.

“The thought process is that as the water is going across the field we see this (the China clay particles settling to the bottom of the beaker),” said Griffin. “So as the water gets to the other side of the field all of our suspended solids, all of our nutrients that are attached to those soil particles, are staying in the field where we put them and not going into the tail ditch, into the creeks and into the Mississippi River.”

In an interview, Griffin said PAM has traditionally been used in the canal areas of the Western states for erosion control. In the 1990s, the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service did research attempting to identify ways PAM could help reduce nutrient runoff and erosion.

“Polyacrylamide was included as one of those conservation practices,” said Griffin. “Its use is now an approved NRCS Best Management Practice (Code #450).”

“This product has been tested in a few locations in Mississippi and Arkansas,” said Buddy Allen, owner of A&J Planting Co. “We’re looking forward to seeing that broadened.”

Working with SNF and Helena Chemical Co., which markets two polyacrylamide products, Allen and his coworkers demonstrated the effects of PAM being injected into a furrow irrigation system and in a center pivot sprinkler system on his farm.

For more information on PAM, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyacrylamide

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