Chemical runoff from Midwestern farmland is still feeding an oxygen-deprived area in the Gulf of Mexico and the so-called “dead zone” isn’t shrinking, despite ongoing efforts.
Scientists and policy-makers have worked for more than a decade on a plan to reduce nutrient runoff from farm fields, which endangers marine life in the Gulf.
This year, researchers predict the dead zone will have grown to the size of Connecticut.
Louisiana State University professor Gene Turner says that means the voluntary guidelines established almost 15 years ago to clean up the Mississippi and Missouri rivers aren’t working.
Turner says, “Lurking in the background is, well, under what conditions would the nutrients be reduced and can we come up with better voluntary plans or are we going to have to come up with a punitive process?”
It took some 200 years of farming to create the dead zone situation and Turner says reversing the trend may also take decades.
“There’s no evidence that there’s been any reduction in the hypoxic zone size or the amount of nutrients coming down the river,” he says.
On the plus side, Turner says promising research does offer profitable ways for farmers to keep the nutrients they need on the land and out of the waterways.