“Dead Zone” in the Gulf of Mexico: Time for it to Go Away
Each year, nutrients run off from farm fields and out of urban and suburban yards into the Mississippi River watershed. These nutrients, when aggregated across an area that comprises over a third of the landmass of the United States, comprise a rich slurry of compounds that pour into the Gulf of Mexico from the Mississippi, rendering a large area of the Gulf uninhabitable to fish and other life forms. This “dead zone,” so called because the lack of dissolved oxygen in the water renders marine life unviable, waxes and wanes every year through a complex mix of factors including weather and Gulf currents.
A constant in the annual dead zone development though, is the source of the nutrient materials, which come mostly from the intensive farming and urban areas in the Midwest. What can be done, given that we live in cities and have to eat? Policy makers point to the federal Farm Bill as the best source for ensuring that farmers are doing what they should to practice highest standards of soil and water conservation and proper nutrient management. This year, Congress failed to pass a Farm Bill; conservation measures were weak even in the bill that was considered.
The health of the Mississippi River is everyone’s business. Whether or not you are one of the 20 million plus people who depend on it for drinking water, the Mississippi contributes to the health and livability of our communities in countless ways. Even as we all depend on the Mississippi, so we all take responsibility for its health, whether we farm thousands of acres or a city lot. If we don’t manage land, there are other ways we need to be more “hydro-literate” about the Mississippi River and the water system that it anchors.
For more on this year’s Dead Zone, and what you can do about it, go to the web site of the 1 Mississippi campaign: “Can the River count on you”?