Call to Volunteer Programs to Revitalize Dead Zone

Reader Contribution by Aly Van Dyke

The president of the Environmental Working Group is calling for volunteers and accountability to curb the run-off from the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico’s “dead zone.”

Craig Cox issued a statement today that outlines three steps that need to be taken to reduce the runoff: keep soil on the land, manage nitrogen and phosphorous use more responsibly, and capture the chemicals by installing more wetlands and filter strips.

The area in the Gulf is known as a “dead zone,” because nitrogen and phosphorus are carried down to the gulf, limiting oxygen in the water (referred to as hypoxia), and drastically damaging marine life in the region.

The “dead zone” has been a known victim of phosphorous and nitrogen runoff since 1985. This year, the area of the zone is predicted by some to be the second-largest area in the zone’s history, at 8,000 square miles – almost the size of New Jersey. The area has grown by more than 4,000 square miles since 1993.

The U.S. Geological Survey estimated that 70 percent of the runoff comes from agricultural processes, and that nine states contribute 75 percent of the nitrogen and phosphorous found in the Mississippi River.

Cox directed the statement to Iowa residents, but his suggestions on volunteerism and the problems confronted by the economy apply pretty much everywhere.

What’s startling to me is that we’ve known about this impact for nearly a quarter of a century and the area is still growing.