EDITORIAL: The nutrient nine

Times-Picayune; February 1, 2008


The Mississippi River drains a huge part of the country — 31 states and two Canadian provinces — but just nine states are responsible for most of the nutrient pollution that ends up in the Gulf of Mexico and causes the annual dead zone off Louisiana’s coast.
A study by the U.S. Geological Survey identified those states, which make up only a third of the drainage area but put three-fourths of the nitrogen and phosphorus into the Gulf.
Midwestern farm states have long been recognized as a source of agricultural runoff, and Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Ohio and Missouri are among the nine. But joining them are Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi.
This data should help state and federal regulators figure out more aggressive steps to curb the threat that nutrient pollution poses to Gulf fisheries. A 2001 agreement by states and federal agencies to voluntarily reduce runoff has done little to meet that objective. In fact, the size of the dead zone has grown.
The federal Hypoxia Task Force meets next month, and that group should focus on these nine states and what can be done to reduce their outsized role in this environmental crisis.