An estimated 9 to 10 percent of Wisconsin wells have tested over safe limits for nitrate.
Studies have estimated that 90% of nitrate in groundwater comes from spreading of synthetic fertilizers and dairy manure on farm fields, with most of the remainder from septic systems.
Nitrate behaves differently. Relatively little lingers near roots where it can be absorbed. Water washes it down into shallow groundwater that is the source of drinking water for one-quarter of Wisconsin residents.
Legumes and alfalfa, take up nitrogen before it can reach groundwater, but are not as profitable as corn. When prices rise for corn, which requires heavy applications of nitrogen-based fertilizer, farmers quickly convert acreage and boost spreading. Wisconsin farmers applied over 200 million pounds of nitrogen in excess of UW-Extension recommendations.
Not only does the fertilizer create toxic drinking water, but the phosphorus in fertilizer and manure contributes to abnormal algae growth in lakes and streams when it runs off the land with rain and snowmelt.
Drinking water contaminated with more than 10 milligrams per liter of nitrate poses acute risks to infants and women who are pregnant, a possible risk to fetuses in early stages of pregnancy, and a longer-term risk of serious disease in adults.
The sun is shining. The temperatures are rising. A trip to the park is imminent. All of the end pieces of bread saved during the long winter is gathered and ready for the trip. Strolling along the water’s edge the ducks are just waiting to receive some of the bounty, they are so used to being thrown scraps that they follow me to an empty bench where I sit and quickly become their favorite visitor as crumb after crumb is tossed.
It is just amazing to watch the birds run from crumb to crumb trying to get as much as they can. I smile. There is something captivating about feeding wildlife.
Of course, until now I had not realized the harm I may actually be causing. Those “wild” ducks shouldn’t be following me around; that is unnatural behavior – they should fear me. The food I am tossing to them is low in protein and are very poor substitutes for natural foods such as aquatic plants, natural grains, and invertebrates.
This artificial feeding causes inbreeding, delayed migration, overcrowding, disease, deformity and water pollution. Some parks maintain a strict “no feeding” area to watch the birds while some places still offer such an activity. The key to feeding the ducks properly is to provide food that is nutritious to waterfowl such as special duck pellets or seedless grapes cut in half, shredded kale, Swiss chard or romaine lettuce, and grains, including wheat, barley and oats. These are all healthy food sources that will appeal to most waterfowl.
Of course it is not just about the birds. Water pollution is a big issue in regards to feeding the ducks. Decomposing bread creates bacteria and attracts vermin, especially rats, whose urine transmits Weil’s disease, which can be deadly to people. Rotting bread exacerbates naturally occurring surface algae – which can give off toxins damaging to fish populations and create a stench for humans – by releasing more nitrates and phosphates. It also denies sunlight to underwater plants. And the bread eaten by birds creates more feces, which has the same effect.