Watersheds Included in Iniative

By Greg Hilburn, The News Star, Monroe, Louisiana
December 3, 2009

Three Louisiana watersheds, including two in northeastern Louisiana, are included in an $80 million, 12-state initiative to improve water quality in the Mississippi River Basin by managing fertilizer runoff from agricultural land. 

Bayou Macon and Boeuf River watersheds in northeastern Louisiana, as well as Mermentau in southern Louisiana, are included in the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative.

"These are the areas where we believe we can have the most impact," said Scott Edwards of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The Bayou Macon Watershed is in Catahoula, East Carroll, Franklin, Madison, Richland and West Carroll parishes. The Boeuf River Watershed is in Caldwell, Catahoula, Franklin, Morehouse, Ouachita, Richland and West Carroll parishes.

Edwards said the voluntary program will help farmers pay for practices that will either reduce or filter the runoff of nitrogen and phosphorous into the basin’s waters.

That runoff travels down the Mississippi River and increases the hypoxic zone, or dead zone, in the Gulf of Mexico that is almost void of oxygen.

"Agricultural runoff isn’t the only factor that adds to the hypoxic zone, but it is certainly an important one," Edwards said.

Among the initiatives that landowners can take are planting buffer strips of grass between fields and ditches that naturally filters the runoff as well as other conservation practices in the fields.

The initiative will enhance wildlife habitat and water quality throughout the basin, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.