Our Views: Muddy water for marshes?

By Opinion Page Staff
The Advocate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Mar 16, 2008


Halfway home and getting nowhere

That’s the story of the state and federal officials who pledged themselves in 2001 to reduce the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico that causes massive kills of marine life every year.

The goal was reducing the dead zone to one-fourth its size by 2015. Nothing doing; it’s still growing.

The cause is fertilizer runoff and wastewater from farms and towns along the Mississippi River. Last summer, the dead zone was measured at nearly 8,000 square miles of lifeless water. The river runoffs, mostly nitrogen and phosphorus, combine with sunlight and summer heat to feed algae blooms that choke off the oxygen supply vital for marine life.

While the dead zone is a concern — and the U.S. government has not been active enough in combating it — there is another concern for Louisiana.

Today’s plans for restoring Louisiana’s coastal wetlands involve mimicking the natural processes that built the Mississippi Delta in the first place. Water from the river would be diverted so that sediment could naturally rebuild wetlands over time.

But if the nutrients from agricultural runoff create a “dead zone” in the marsh, a new problem is born.

“All of this stuff is inextricably linked, all of these things have to be linked for coastal restoration in Louisiana,” said Garret Graves, who heads Gov. Bobby Jindal’s Office of Coastal Activities.

A revised plan at a conference of state and federal officials in Chicago proposes that states come up with plans to reduce nutrients in the river by 2013.

We shall be very surprised if, absent forceful federal intervention, the state governments are able to take on the politically difficult task of changing farming operations.