Gulf of Mexico “Dead Zone” Tour of Iowa
DES MOINES, Iowa - A task force focused on water quality more than a thousand miles from Iowa is meeting in the Des Moines area this week to talk about what is being done to reduce the state's role in the pollution. The Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia Task Force is investigating how to lessen fertilizer and manure contamination that flows downstream into the Gulf of Mexico, creating what is being called the "dead zone;" an area with very low oxygen that cannot support marine life and is impacting the region's multi-million-dollar fishing industry.
Matt Rota, water resources program director for the Gulf Restoration Network, says he's encouraged to hear the task force is considering new standards and goals for reducing nitrogen and phosphorus levels. His organization and others are urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture to target farm conservation funding to help the agriculture industry control the runoff.
"The dead zone that forms in the Gulf of Mexico is a national problem. While Louisiana and parts of Texas feel the brunt of the effects of the dead zone in impacts to fisheries, reducing nitrogen and phosphorus pollution can also solve local water quality problems."
Iowa has experienced algae blooms in rivers, lakes and streams that can be traced to runoff, says Rota. Task force members toured a restored wetland near Gilbert Wednesday, and Susan Heathcote, water program director for the Iowa Environmental Council, says projects that restore the natural landscape are right on target.
"We've drained a lot of the natural wetlands; we've removed many of the perennial buffers along rivers and streams, and by restoring wetlands and buffers in targeted areas, we can do a lot to filter and improve the water quality."
Nitrogen and phosphate in the Mississippi River Basin can also be traced to human sewage and lawn fertilizers, according to experts. The dead zone reportedly is the size of New Jersey. The task force consists of federal and state agencies, and has been meeting since 1997.
More information about the meeting is available at www.agriculture.state.ia.us/press/2009Press/press091609.asp.