Hypoxia Task Force Report Shows Progress, Need to Accelerate Reduction of Nutrient Pollution in Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico
A new report released by the Hypoxia Task Force highlights progress made during the past five years in targeting funds where they are most needed, increasing agricultural conservation practices, developing state nutrient reduction strategies, and improving science and monitoring of water quality in the Mississippi River Basin. The report recommends that the Task Force work to accelerate implementation of nutrient reduction activities and identify ways to measure progress in reducing pollution at a variety of scales, from small streams to the mouth of the Mississippi River. The Task Force has also released a new federal strategy focused primarily on providing support to states as they develop and implement nutrient reduction strategies.
“Achieving significant water quality improvements in water bodies as large as the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico takes time, and the increasing impacts of climate change such as more frequent extreme weather events pose additional challenges. The progress we’ve made across the board during the past five years provides an excellent foundation and we will work to accelerate our progress over the next five years,” said Nancy Stoner, acting Assistant Administrator for Water for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and co-chair of the Task Force.
As part of an assessment of the Hypoxia Task Force’s progress in implementing its 2008 Action Plan, the report’s findings include:
States are making progress in nutrient reduction strategies: The Task Force continues to focus on drafting and implementing state nutrient reduction strategies. Five states—Mississippi, Iowa, Wisconsin and Indiana and Ohio—have finalized or released drafts of nutrient reduction strategies, and the remaining seven states expect to have at least draft strategies completed by late 2013 or early 2014.
Assistance for conservation practices is strong: The U.S. Department of Agriculture continues to provide strong assistance for conservation practices through a variety of actions, including the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI). The MRBI uses key conservation practices, such as nutrient management, conservation crop rotation, cover crops, and residue and tillage management, to address critical water quality concerns of the region. By the end of fiscal year 2013, the MRBI will have targeted over $341 million in assistance across 123 projects and 640 small watersheds.
Science and monitoring continues to improve: In the past few years the Task Force has improved the scientific tools and efforts used in the Mississippi River Basin, including establishing a long-term water quality monitoring network, conducting basin-wide assessments and using models to increase understanding of nutrient loadings, and coordinating hypoxic zone research. This allows for more precise targeting of efforts to reduce nutrient pollution and measurement of results from those activities.
Goal for reducing hypoxic zone in Gulf of Mexico remains reasonable: Despite incremental improvements and significant investments to reduce nutrient pollution, the goal of reducing the size of the hypoxic zone to 5,000 square kilometers is unlikely to be achieved in 2015. The average size of the dead zone for the past five years was 14,807 square kilometers. However, the science shows the goal remains reasonable.
In the coming years, federal agencies will:
- Provide more scientific and technical assistance, such as monitoring and modeling efforts to help demonstrate progress locally, basin-wide, and in the Gulf, as well as additional research to better target conservation practices on the ground.
- Work on economic analyses of conservation practices to help producers identify the conservation practices that provide the most economic and environmental benefits.
- Support regulatory activities that provide reductions in nutrient runoff.
- Use innovation and leveraging to offer financial and technical assistance.
- Explore ways to expand market-based approaches.
The hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico forms every summer and is a result of excess nutrients from the Mississippi River and seasonal stratification (layering) of waters in the Gulf. The Hypoxia Task Force (also referred to as the Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force) was established in the fall of 1997 to understand the causes and effects of eutrophication in the Gulf of Mexico; coordinate activities to reduce the size, severity, and duration; and lessen the effects of hypoxia. Members of the Hypoxia Task Force are the Army Corps of Engineers; U.S. Department of Agriculture; Department of Interior; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; and the states of Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.
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