WASHINGTON — The federal government announced Wednesday the formation of a new Mississippi River Monitoring Collaborative project to help prevent the growth of low-oxygen dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere.
The Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient (Hypoxia) Task Force is launching the new effort to monitor reductions in nutrients — nitrogen and phosphorus — put into the watershed through Midwestern farming runoffs.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has a member on the task force, also is preparing to update its technical standard for water quality monitoring to better measure the amount of nutrients coming from farm fields.
Nutrient runoff from agricultural, urban and industrial sources has polluted waterways for decades and contributed to hypoxic zones in the Gulf — areas of low oxygen that are largely uninhabitable by fish and other marine life, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“Farmers, ranchers and other land managers, with help from federal, state and local funding sources and technical assistance, are investing in conservation projects on their lands in the Mississippi River Basin,” stated Nancy Stoner, the EPA’s acting assistant administrator for water and co-chairwoman of the task force.
“Working together to expand monitoring will give us critical insight into the progress of conservation projects and help us improve activities on the ground and in the water,” Stoner said in the announcement.
The new Mississippi River Monitoring Collaborative, made up of federal and state agencies like the Louisiana Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities, is identifying streams with long-term nutrient monitoring and stream flow records. So far, the team has collected more than 670,000 nutrient data records from 12 states in the Mississippi River Basin, which it will use to evaluate where conservation practices and policies are working, and where new or enhanced nutrient reduction strategies need to be developed, according to the EPA.
“It is important we continue to have strong cooperation as we work together to monitor the progress cities, industries and farmers are making as they work to make changes and address water quality concerns,” said Bill Northey, Iowa agriculture secretary and co-chairman of the task force.