It’s Something in the Water: Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone Bigger than Usual and Pressure Builds to Do Something About It

By Tulane WaterWays Staff – the Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy
August 7, 2015

Beaujolais Nouveau, swallows to Capistrano, and a massive hypoxic “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico. There things we have all come to expect each year. Except for the swallows, for some reason they pretty much stopped coming (they could be protesting the tiered water pricing.) But the nutrient rich waters of the Mississippi River keep on coming, and this year’s long high-water season has brought more than usual. The result is an area of very low oxygen, with close to no oxygen in some spots, in the Gulf. This year it is larger than Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. This makes it a very hard place for fish to live and for fishing folk to make their livings. It also raises questions about the usability of the river for coastal restoration work. The culprit is nutrients, many of which come from fields up river. Under pressure to reduce the size of the hypoxic zone, the EPA formed Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Reduction Task Force (try finding that in a song title) released an action plan in 2008 that aimed to reduce the size of the zone to about 1,900 square miles by 2015. After 8 years of action this year’s zone is estimated to be 6,474 square miles or about 3 times larger than the target. Or the original target to be accurate. Earlier this year the Task Force reset the target date for getting below 2,000 square miles to 2035. Taking a different view of what “action” and “nutrient reduction” might be supposed to mean, a number of conservation groups have filed suit against EPA to force it to set firmer reduction goals. That case is pending in Federal Court in New Orleans. On a different, non-litigious track, Tulane University has opened registration for its $1 million Nutrient Reduction Challenge. See the following story for more on that.

Stop the Dead Zone, Win Big Prizes—The Tulane Nutrient Reduction Challenge

Hoping, meeting, planning and more hoping have not made the Gulf of Mexico’s persistent hypoxia problem go away. The explanation for that is that the same cycle of hoping, meeting, planning and more hoping has not reduced the levels of nitrogen in the Mississippi River, which is also a problem for upstream drinking water supplies not just fish and wetlands on the downstream end. It turns out that regardless of the goals and efforts of the Nutrient Reduction Task Force The Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy is a program of the Tulane University Law School. The Institute is dedicated to fostering a greater appreciation and understanding of the vital role that water plays in our society and of the importance of the legal and policy framework that shapes the uses and stewardship of water.

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