Nutrient Reduction Strategies
WHAT ARE NUTRIENT REDUCTION STRATEGIES?
To protect Mississippi River Basin watersheds from nitrogen and phosphorus pollution by advising regulatory agencies, monitoring Clean Water Act enforcement, and assessing the impacts of current federal and state regulations and programs.
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 address the growing Dead Zone problem of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution.
The HTF developed an Action Plan in 2001 to address the issue and, failing to make significant progress, developed another one in 2008. The first Action Item in the 2008 plan called upon states to “Complete and implement comprehensive nitrogen and phosphorus reduction strategies for states within the Mississippi/Atchafalaya River Basin encompassing watersheds with significant contributions of nitrogen and phosphorus to the surface waters of the Mississippi/Atchafalaya River Basin, and ultimately to the Gulf of Mexico.”
Early in 2011, EPA’s Acting Administrator of the Office of Water, Nancy K. Stoner, issued a memo [link to doc: Stoner Memo] to EPA regional directors in which she acknowledged the serious problems caused by nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, but deflected the management of the problem and the establishment of numeric criteria to the state level, calling the “one-size-fits-all solution” (i.e., federally established numeric criteria championed by MRC and other organizations) “neither desirable nor necessary.” The memo included a suggested framework for states to use in the development of Nutrient Reduction Strategies (NRSs).
The most obvious problem with the NRSs is that they are voluntary, unenforceable solutions to a problem which needs federal rulemaking and enforcement. There is no stated penalty for states who do not create, implement, or enforce these strategies.
In addition, the timeline for state creation or implementation of NRSs is arbitrary and unenforceable. EPA suggests states develop “numeric N and P criteria for at least one class of waters within the state (e.g., lakes and reservoirs, or rivers and streams) within 3-5 years (reflecting water quality and permit review cycles).” To date, only two states have developed numeric nitrogen and phosphorus criteria.
Not only that, but the HTF has failed to meet its goal as well. According to its 2008 Action Plan, its goal was to “reduce or make significant progress toward reducing the five-year running average areal extent of the Gulf of Mexico hypoxic zone to less than 5,000 square kilometers by the year 2015 through implementation of specific, practical, and cost-effective voluntary actions by all Federal agencies, States, and Tribes…” The 2014 Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone measured 13,080 square kilometers. Clearly, voluntary measures are not working.
HAS MY STATE ESTABLISHED A NUTRIENT REDUCTION STRATEGY?
Most of the Mississippi River Basin states have developed at least a draft of an NRS which attempts to address some of the components listed in the Stoner Memo. To find about your state’s NRS, click here.
WHAT IS MRC DOING TO MONITOR/EVALUATE NUTRIENT REDUCTION STRATEGIES?
It is MRC’s position that even if every Mississippi River Basin state developed a comprehensive NRS, the limits, timetables, and levels of enforcement found within are all too variable to be effective. EPA must step up and create federal numeric standards with which states must comply or face penalties.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION: