Toxic waters

The New York Times is doing a nice series on water pollution.  In my circles the problems with agricultural waste have been well known for a long time.  See, for example, these reports from USDA-ERS from a few years back [1, 2, 3]. It's become more of a concern as the livestock industry has rapidly become more concentrated.  With lots of animals in a small area it effectively creates a pretty serious sewage problem.  North Carolina was on the front lines of the rapidly concentrating hog industry so these problems have been around here for awhile.  The Times seems to focus on dairy, which has become concentrated more recently.  My understanding (I haven't looked at the data) is that Idaho--the focus of one of the Times videos--is getting more dairy because their regulations are less strict.

Anyway, it's nice to see some national attention given to this problem.  My impression is that most do not realize how important agriculture is for water quality.

There are zillion epidemiological and economic studies looking at air pollution but I've seen much less on water.  Actually, the only person I know that is attempting to use quasi-experimental methods now fashionable in empirical economics is  Stacy Sneeringer (ungated copies of her papers can be found here). Stacy is visiting USDA-ERS and I just spoke with her last week.  The challenges include complicated geology and thin and poor water quality data.  Still, for aspiring number crunchers, there's plenty of room for more research on this topic.


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