Numeric Nutrient Criteria for Freshwaters

EPA approves two methods to determine whether a waterbody is impaired:  narrative and numeric.

Narrative criteria are subjective. Numeric criteria are not.

Narrative criteria are difficult to enforce. Numeric criteria – much less so.

This fact is known by the EPA, but the agency – to date – has not assumed the responsibility to establish a federal numeric standard for nitrogen and phosphorus pollution that states must follow to ensure proper water quality. Nitrogen and phosphorus pollution (think cow manure and fertilizer) causes harm to aquatic life, is responsible for the death of many pets each year (Fido swims in it), and it – most notoriously – causes the green slimy algae blooms that close beaches and suffocate life (think Dead Zone and Red Tide).

The Mississippi River Collaborative has been working for over a decade to bring attention to nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, to push EPA to establish numeric criteria to determine whether a waterbody is impaired, and/or to force the inadequate stewards of the land to implement better agricultural practices.

Numeric Nutrient Criteria for Freshwaters is the latest report funded by MRC (and the McKnight Foundation) and written by Dr. JoAnn Burkholder. It lays out the case for numeric standards for nitrogen and phosphorus and explains the strategy behind the development of these numbers.

When EPA does not live up to its mission to protect “human health and the environment,” then states need to step up and do so.

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