Two LSU AgCenter researchers have received almost $1 million to help pay for a study of how artificially constructed wetlands can be used to improve the quality of water.

Eddie Millhollon and James Rabb were awarded $988,088 in federal and state matching funds by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality and the LSU AgCenter to study how to improve water quality by reducing nutrients, sediments and pesticides in runoff water.

Nonpoint source pollution — or water pollution that comes from undetermined sources — has been cited as a major cause of impairment of waterways in the Red River Basin.

More than 400 acres of agricultural land located on the LSU AgCenter's Red River Research Station in Bossier City, La., will be used for this study of how to reduce such pollution, Millhollon said.

“Agriculture occupies a significant portion of the land area in the Red River Basin,” Rabb said. “Agricultural operations such as tillage and pesticide use are among the suspected sources of pollution.”

Agricultural producers have been looking at changes in cultivation practices and methods that allow reduced use of fertilizers, pesticides and other materials for many years. This research could provide additional means of reducing the runoff of pollutants into water bodies.

According to Millhollon and Rabb, the suspected causes of water impairment they will examine include suspended solids, nutrients — particularly nitrogen and phosphorus, organic enrichment, low dissolved oxygen and pesticides.

“The specific goal of this project is to show how using natural resources, such as a wetland, can improve the quality of water coming off agricultural land,” Millhollon said.

Automated sampling stations will be set up along the route water will take from the agricultural land to its eventual destination. Those stations will collect water samples to determine changes in quality as it travels through the system.

In addition to determining how the use of a constructed wetland can improve the quality of water discharged from an agricultural operation before the water enters a major water body, Millhollon and Rabb also will develop an educational outreach program to inform producers of the benefits that can come from constructing an artificial wetland on a farming operation.

Bill Brown, vice chancellor and research director for the LSU AgCenter, said this is one of the largest single grants ever received by the AgCenter.

“This says what the researchers are doing is important,” Brown said. “It is attributed to their capabilities and shows the value of their research in helping maintain the state's water bodies.”

The project is expected to be completed in December 2005. In addition to the LSU AgCenter and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is participating in the study.