Water News and More from the Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy
8 August 2019

Remember Hurricane Barry?  It was the storm that coincided with elevated Mississippi River levels and, consequently, looked like it might be scarier than Game of Thrones’ Night King who had the bluest eye anyone has ever seen.  While Louisiana may not have looked like paradise as Barry created a couple of overcast and wet days, for the most part it turned out to be a mercy situation worthy of a song of Solomon.  That is, Barry spared our belovedjazz city that we call home and love so much, as well as surrounding areas, from much damage and loss of life.  Moreover, the Army Corps of Engineers says the situation has prompted the agency to look for better ways to estimate and communicate possible threats should the situation recur.  But, did Barry also affect the Gulf of Mexico dead zone?

Sort of.  LSU and NOAA scientists say that this year’s Gulf of Mexico hypoxic area or dead zone, which stretches from the mouth of the Mississippi River to west of Galveston, Texas, covers 6,952 square miles, an area larger than the state of Hawaii.  This constitutes the eighth largest dead zone in the 33 years that scientists have measured the phenomenon, but scientists have determined that it is almost 1,000 square miles smaller than had been estimated.  Scientists predicted a near-record large dead zone for this year because record floods had carried so much nitrogen and phosphorus from the nation’s heartland down the Mississippi.  The scientists explained that it is likely that the passage of Barry along the coast stirred air into the bottom waters.  However, LSU marine scientist Nancy Rabalais explained: “We found that, despite the storm, the zone re-formed and was in the process of rapidly expanding.”  She further observed that this year’s hypoxia area is 2.8 times larger than the goal set by the Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia Task Force, which calls for reducing the size of the dead zone to a five-year average no larger than 1,931 square miles.  That goal was originally supposed to be reached by 2015, but is now set for 2035.  So, it seems as if Barry brought a bit of a reprieve but, like many coastal issues, there is still much work to be done.  When it comes to Barry v. the dead zone, we’ll call it a draw like the battle of King Arthur and the Black Knight.