WHAT IS THE GULF OF MEXICO “DEAD ZONE”?

To protect wetlands in the Mississippi River basin from pollution, destruction, or insufficient mitigation by advising regulatory agencies, monitoring enforcement, and assessing the impacts of current regulations.

The Situation
How has the EPA responded to the Dead Zone?


THE SITUATION

When excess nitrogen and phosphorus from agriculture runoff and wastewater discharges enter the Mississippi River from waters throughout the Mississippi River Basin, it travels down to the Gulf of Mexico, triggering rapid algae growth. The process, called eutrophication, robs the waters of the Gulf of adequate levels of dissolved oxygen, creating a Dead Zone where aquatic life either moves or dies.

The Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone is the 2nd largest Dead Zone in the world and is directly related to the levels of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution entering the Mississippi River. This means that it is reversible, even preventable, if proper control measures are enacted by the federal government and states in the Mississippi River Basin.
Dead Zone Map

HOW HAS EPA RESPONDED TO THE DEAD ZONE?

In 1997, the EPA created the Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force, more commonly known as the Hypoxia Task Force (HTF), to attempt to solve the growing Dead Zone problem. The HTF is comprised of representatives from federal and state agencies and the tribes whose mission is to “understand the causes and effects of eutrophication in the Gulf of Mexico; coordinate activities to reduce the size, severity, and duration; and ameliorate the effects of hypoxia.”

The HTF developed an Action Plan in 2001 and, failing to make significant progress, developed another one in 2008. Then it issued a reassessment in 2013. It’s now 2014, and the HTF admits that it will fall short – way short – of its 2015 goal of reducing the hypoxic zone to 5,000 square kilometers. In fact, the 2014 measurement was over 13,000 square kilometers.

EPA is relying solely on individual states to enact the necessary regulations or control measures – also known as Nutrient Reduction Strategies – to rectify the problem of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution leaving their lands and entering the Mississippi River. The states in turn are relying in large part on voluntary compliance measures from farmers and industries. And it’s not working. MRC attempted to force EPA to fulfill its Clean Water Act obligations by petitioning the agency for a rulemaking which would create numeric limits on nitrogen and phosphorus with which states would be required to comply. Read more about the petition and ongoing lawsuit here.


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