Home & Garden: Grand Valley ozone levels are high
Free Press Gardening Columnist
When I come back from skiing, I can always tell when I enter the Grand Valley.
The layer of trapped pollution is the first indication of the poor air quality we are living in. Coughing and difficulty in breathing is my second indication of poor quality air.
Researchers from University of Colorado Boulder, with the help of community leaders and students, are conducting an air quality monitoring program in the North Fork area. The “Citizens for Clean Air” group in the Grand Valley is attempting to extend that project into Mesa County. If this grassroots organization is successful in receiving a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency, county and state officials will have more scientific data on air quality and its effect on the health of Mesa County, Colo., citizens and the crops we grow.
Grand Junction’s air quality index recently was classified as moderate. The level of ozone and concentration of tiny particles in the air are responsible for this classification. Ozone tends to irritate the respiratory system, causing coughing, tightness of the chest, sore throats, and even difficulty breathing. That’s what many people experience in the Grand Valley.
Ozone also affects plants. Ozone is reported as causing more damage to plants then all other air pollutants combined. It’s created when sunlight reacts with nitrous oxides and volatile organic compounds. The Agricultural Research Service with the U.S. Department of Agriculture has a great website showing the plant damage caused by ozone along with a map of the United States indicating where ozone levels are the highest. Stippling, flecking, bronzing, and reddening of leaves are common symptoms of ozone injury. Sometimes this injury is incorrectly identified as being caused by high soil salt levels, spider mite and leafhopper injury, and other stresses.
When you look at the USDA map, Colorado is shown as one of the areas in the country with the highest level of ozone. The ARS map and ozone information can be found on the Internet at http://www.ars.usda.gov/Main/docs.htm?docid=12462. The higher the ozone level, the lower the yield of field crops and the more damage ornamentals and other plants experience. Most of this damage occurs during the growing season. In the winter, high ozone levels can damage winter wheat and other overwintering crops, greenhouse crops, and house plants.
According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment website, the ozone monitor in the Grand Valley is located at the Palisade water treatment plant on Rapid Creek Road. On Sunday evening, I checked the Colorado website and Palisade’s ozone concentration was higher than the ozone level in Denver, Colorado Springs, or the Fort Collins/Greeley area.
Since ozone is heavier than air, it would tend to settle — creating even higher concentrations in lower parts of the valley. With only one ozone monitor in place, we really don’t know the extent of the ozone problem.
The possible increase in ozone is something we should be concerned about. I’m going to do my part by adding biochar to my gardens and lavender fields over the next several years. While this is a small step to reducing the problem, the addition of charcoal to soil has been shown to reduce the amount of nitrous oxide escaping from the soil. Lower nitrous oxide means less ozone. The addition of biochar to soil has also been shown to increase yield, so I can’t go wrong as long as an excessive amount of this charcoal is not applied.
GJ Free Press columnist Dr. Curtis E. Swift is a retired horticulture agent with the Colorado State University Extension. Reach him at Curtis.Swift@alumni.colostate.edu, 970-778-7866, or check out his blog at http://SwiftsGardeningBlog.blogspot.com. He owns Swift Horticultural Consulting and High Altitude Lavender.
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