© 2021 Iowa Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Average Size Dead Zone Suggests Voluntary Reduction Measures not Working

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer
Cover crops are one conservation measure that helps keep farmland nutrients in the soil and out of the Gulf of Mexico.

Chemical runoff from agricultural land in the Midwest continues to contribute to an oxygen-deprived area in the Gulf of Mexico, and the so-called Dead Zone is not shrinking, despite ongoing efforts.

Scientists and policy-makers have worked for over a decade on a plan to reduce the nutrients running off farm fields and endangering marine life in the Gulf of Mexico, but this year researchers predict a Dead Zone the size of Connecticut, which is consistent with the historical average.

“There’s no evidence that there’s been any reduction in the hypoxic zone size or the amount of nutrients coming down the river,” says Louisiana State University professor Gene Turner, which means the voluntary guidelines designed to clean-up the Mississippi River aren’t working.

“So lurking in the background is, 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?” Turner asks.

He points to promising research from Iowa State University which demonstrates profitable ways for farmers to keep the nutrients they need on the land and out of the waterways. Turner says it has taken 200 years of farming to create the situation and reversing it may take decades.