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2008 Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone Could Be Largest Ever

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana, June 18, 2008 (ENS) – As a record-breaking volume of floodwater laden with sewage and fertilizers rolls down the waterways of the Mississippi Basin towards the Gulf of Mexico, a joint federal-state task force released an updated action plan to reduce low oxygen levels that cause a dead zone each summer in the Gulf of Mexico.

Researchers say this year’s dead zone may be the largest ever recorded due to increased fertilizer use in the Midwest and flooding along the Mississippi River dumping even more water than usual into the Gulf of Mexico.

The revised action plan was signed at a meeting of the Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force Monday in New Orleans.

The plan calls for all states to continue and expand activities to reduce the amount of nitrates and phosphorus emptying into the Mississippi River Basin from farm fertilizers and urban runoff.

These nutrients fuel the enormous algae blooms that cause the annual dead zones. The algae deplete the oxygen in the water when they die, sink to the bottom and decompose.


Satellite image shows sediment loads from
the Mississippi and Atchafalaya
Rivers entering the Gulf of Mexico.
(Image courtesy NASA)

“Our improved plan unites governments and citizens across the country to take action upstream and along the coast to reduce river nutrient pollution and increase Gulf of Mexico health,” said Benjamin Grumbles, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s assistant administrator for water.

“Sound science, cooperative conservation, and innovation will accelerate environmental progress throughout the 31-state watershed and this plan puts us on a course to do just that,” he said.

Improvements include more accountability through an Annual Operating Plan, better tracking of progress, state as well as federal nutrient reduction strategies, and a plan to increase awareness of the problem and implementation of solutions.

Eleven key actions in the 2008 Action Plan outline critical needs to complete and implement nitrogen and phosphorus reduction strategies, promote effective conservation practices and management practices, track progress, reduce existing scientific uncertainties, and promote effective communications to increase awareness of Gulf hypoxia.

Garret Graves, chairman of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, reminded members of the Task Force of the urgent need to clean the water in the Mississippi River since that water and sediment are the most important resources needed to restore and sustain Louisiana’s rapidly eroding coastal marshes.

“The Mississippi River built almost all of South Louisiana. We will rely upon it to help us rebuild what has washed away over the last century. The river must be healthy in order for us to succeed, said Graves.

Graves said Louisiana is the source of very little of the contamination yet his state must deal with the consequences of pollution from other states. He said Louisiana is not only concerned with rebuilding and restoring coastal marshes but also is trying to preserve fisheries stocks that are vitally important to the nation.

“The Gulf’s world class recreational and commercial fishing is at stake,” he said. “This industry is not only a major contributor to the region’s economy, but is a huge part of the heritage of the people of our state and region. The culture of fishing has shaped South Louisiana and the rest of the Gulf and we must do all we can to preserve that culture.”

Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, and Wisconsin, along with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Army Corps of Engineers formed the task force in 1998.

Ohio joined in 2002 because the Ohio River supplies a large portion of the water in the lower Mississippi River.

The action plan is a voluntary effort that supports state and federal initiatives to reduce nutrient runoff into the river while encouraging private projects to do the same.

“The action plan signed today will provide a solid foundation for an aggressive program to reduce and eliminate the nutrients that cause the Gulf dead zone,” Graves said.

He said Louisiana has budgeted to cover the expense of its actions to comply with the plan. “The $300 million that Governor [Bobby] Jindal and the legislature provided earlier this year for coastal restoration and hurricane protection will allow us to move forward on river diversions that will help to filter nutrients and restore our coastal area, a win-win for Louisiana.”

The action plan is online at: epa.gov

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