Missouri Flooding Expected to Contribute to Record-Level ‘Dead Zone’

By Heather Claybrook/Mike Clifford, Public News Service – MO
20 June 2011

ST. LOUIS, Mo. – As Missourians have kept a watchful eye on extreme flooding in the state this spring, scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are also watching. They are predicting the floods will contribute to a record-level "Dead Zone" in the Gulf of Mexico. The "Dead Zone" gets its name because there’s not enough oxygen to support marine life, harming the health of one of the world’s largest fisheries.

Kathleen Logan Smith, executive director of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, says a more natural flooding pattern needs to be restored along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.

"Where nature has the capacity to absorb more of that flood water and to treat more of the pollutants, some of our basic wetland restoration projects would really go a long way to keeping nitrogen and phosphorous out of the river in the first place."

Logan Smith says the dead zone is created by fertilizer run-off from farm fields. It is an annual event that peaks in July and fades in the fall as the waves and winds increase, she explains.

Logan Smith says many Missouri farmers use programs to minimize fertilizer run-off, but farmers need consistent incentives from the federal government.

"One of the biggest challenges that we have on the policy side is that Congress keeps cutting funding for these programs. Following through with our conservation commitment is constantly a question."

Missouri traditionally ranks high as one of the top states contributing pollutants to the "Dead Zone."