The law in many parts of the world increasingly restricts the discharge of agricultural slurry into watercourses. The simplest and often the most economically sound practice returns the material to the land as semisolìd manure or as sprayed slurry. This dilutes its concentration in the environment to what might have occurred in a more primitive and sustainable type of agriculture and converts pollutant into fertilizer. Soil microorganisms decompose the organic components of sewage and slurry and most of the mineral nutrients become available to be absorbed again by the vegetation.
The excess input of nutrients, bòth nitrogen and phosphorus - based, from agricultural runoff (and human sewage) has caused many ‘healthy’ oligotrophic lakes (low nutrient concentrations, low plant productivity with abundant water weeds, and clear water) to change to eutrophic condition where high nutrient inputs lead to high phytoplankton productivity (sometimes dominated by bloom-forming toxic species). This makes the water turbid, eliminates large plants and, in the worst situatìons, leads to anoxia and fish kills; so called cultural eutrophication. Thus, important ecosystem services are lost, including the provisioning service of wild-caught fish and the cultural services associated with recreation.
The process of cultural eutrophication of lakes has been understood for some time. But only recently did scientists notice huge ‘dead zones’ in the oceans near river outlets, particularly those draining large catchment areas such as the Mississippi in North America and the Yangtze in China. The nutrient-enriched water flows through streams, rivers and lakes, and eventually to the estuary and ocean where the ecological impact may be huge, killìng virtually all invertebrates and fish in areas up to 70,000 km’ in extent. More than 150 sea areas worldwide are now regularly starved of oxygen as a result of decomposition of algal blooms, fuelled particularly by nitrogen from agricultural runoff of fertilizers and sewage from large cities. Oceanic dead zones are typically associated with industrialized nations and usually lie off countries that subsidize their agriculture, encouraging farmers to increase productivity and use more fertilizer.
The passage refers to the conversion of “pollutant to fertilizer”. What is pollutant and what ìs fertilizer in this context ?