Editorial: Now is the time to stop the dead zone

By Houma Daily Courier
Wednesday, June 25, 2008 at 3:00 p.m.

The issue: Gulf of Mexico dead zone.
We suggest: Upstream solution needed.
The dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico is expected to grow to an unprecedented size this year because of all the flooding in the Midwest.
Although both the flooding itself and the dead zone it will help exacerbate are terrible outcomes, these storm clouds might have a silver lining.
If dramatic increases in the dead zone catch the nation’s attention, perhaps there can be a concerted effort to attack this large and growing problem.
The effects of the zone are limited to the Gulf, where the dead zone chokes out wildlife or forces it to flee for oxygenated water.
But the causes behind it are all upstream, where fertilizer and other runoff find their way into the Mississippi River and, later, into the Gulf, where they cause the algae blooms that rob the water of life-giving oxygen.
This is a problem that is well outside of Louisiana’s ability to address.
Even if all the coastal states got together, there is little that can be done without a comprehensive policy that either discourages the use of or limits the side-effects of chemicals that find their way downstream.
Each year, there is a dead zone that grows in the Gulf because of huge algae blooms that, when they die, suck oxygen out of the water.
The blooms are worsened by the nitrates that run off from farms all the way down the Mississippi River.
And even before the recent floods, scientists were predicting a larger-than-usual dead zone in the Gulf this year.
With the flooding, and all the extra water and runoff it pushes into the river, scientists fear that the dead zone could stretch to an area of 10,000 square miles — roughly the size of Maryland.
It would be the largest dead zone since 1993, the last time there was major flooding along the Mississippi.
The zone each year has obvious effects on our fisheries, making shrimp and other sea creatures seek out oxygenated water.
As that effect grows over time and with the increased influence of the floods, perhaps people outside the coastal region will take note.
The zone seems to be growing over time, scientists say, and with runoff continuing to play its part, there won’t be a solution to it anytime soon.
What we can hope, though, is that if the problem does become large enough to grab attention, it will lead to action.
We can be only cautiously optimistic on that front, however.
It was only three years ago that the world watched in horror as Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and only weeks later Hurricane Rita ravished our area westward to Texas.
And there is still only limited interest in attacking our coastal and flood-control woes.
Still, we hope the growing problem in the Gulf is enough to alert some to the issue and make them more aware.
Only then might there be discussions of upstream solutions to our downstream problems.