Task Force Releases US Gulf Dead Zone Plan

By Brian Ford
Houston ICIS News; June 16 2008


HOUSTON (ICIS news)–A US task force on Monday released an updated plan to reduce the size of the dead zone in the northern Gulf of Mexico, which is caused in part by fertilizer run-off in the Mississippi river.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) update builds upon a 2001 plan and involves state and federal partners in reducing hypoxia, a condition that occurs when chemicals used in fertilizers like phosphates or urea run off into bodies of water and cause the rapid growth of algae, which in turn depletes the oxygen in the water and kills plant and animal life.
Nitrogen and phosphorus run-off in the 31-state watershed has been linked to ecological dead zone in the northern Gulf of Mexico.
In 2007, the measured size of the dead zone was 20,500 km² (7,900 square miles), about the size of the state of Massachusetts, the third largest hypoxic zone since measurements began in 1985, the EPA said.
The plan calls for reducing the five-year average size of the zone to less than 5,000 km² by 2015.
The plan includes fertilizer nutrient management on crop lands.
The nutrient management standard, which is administered by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) requires farmers to account for all plant-available nutrient sources available or rendered throughout the crop production cycle and to apply only the amount of nutrients needed to maintain nutrient balances.
“Nutrient applications needed to maintain nutrient balances are based on realistic yield expectations and attempt to maximise profitable production,” the plan says.
The plan also takes into account the increased use of crop lands for the production of ethanol.
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By: Brian Ford
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