By Keith Magill / Daily Comet
January 2, 2018

A local wetlands advocacy group has forged an agreement it hopes will help reduce the size of the Gulf of Mexico dead zone

The Thibodaux-based Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program announced the deal Tuesday. The non-binding agreement with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture opens the door for low-interest loans farmers in that state can use to enact pollution-control measures.

“Not many people realize it but the whole Mississippi River drainage is the watershed of the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program,” Andrew Barron, BTNEP’s senior water resources coordinator, said in a news release. “Work done to prevent pollution runoff in Minnesota as part of this agreement … is a simple, obvious and great step toward improving water quality in the watershed and in our Louisiana estuary.”

The dead zone, an area with low to no oxygen that occurs each summer off Louisiana and Texas, kills fish and other marine life that fail to move out of the affected waters. Last year, it spanned a record 8,776 square miles, about the size of New Jersey, researchers said.

The problem is caused by runoff from Midwest farms and cattle pastures that flows down the Mississippi River, scientists say. The pollution, which scientists refer to as “nutrients,” stimulates an overgrowth of algae, which sinks and decomposes, depleting the Gulf waters of oxygen.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture already assists landowners and farmers through low-interest loans that can be used to finance practices that prevent pollution to the state’s lakes, rivers and groundwater, officials said. Since 1995, it has issued more than 13,000 loans to Minnesota businesses and landowners financing over $220 million for projects addressing erosion, runoff, manure management, septic treatment and drinking water problems.

The Barataria Program has developed a comprehensive plan that recommends practices that can be implemented from the headwaters of the Mississippi to the river’s delta. With Minnesota’s formal recognition of BTNEP’s management plan, eligibility for the low-interest loans to finance pollution prevention practices in Minnesota will be expanded to include livestock operations with more than 1,000 animals.

The letter of understanding recognizes pollution does not stop at state boundaries and that a multi-state perspective should be considered when addressing the problem, BTNEP says. The agreement also establishes regular reporting and communication between the two organizations.