The Gulf Hypoxia Task Force met in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on May 16. It was a gathering with some historical significance. The Task Force, composed of states along the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers and key federal agencies, last met in that city in October 2000, when the participants signed the first version of the Action Plan for Reducing Hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico.

Nutrient pollution in the Gulf of Mexico caused by runoff from about 40 perfect of the nation. Photo: NOAA

That event was the culmination of over ten years of scientific research, from the beginning of annual mapping cruises of the large offshore zone of hypoxia – low oxygen – in 1985, and five years of intense policy work following a petition under the U.S. Clean Water Act that several environmental organizations filed in 1995. At that time, their legal motion received a priority response from the EPA, resulting in White House level policy and science actions to address what was acknowledged by the federal government to be a serious problem.

After a scientific board compiled a series of reports on the best current information about hypoxia in the Gulf and its causes (nutrient loading from upstream in the Mississippi River Basin), EPA took a leadership role in pulling together federal agencies and upriver states to form what would become the Gulf Hypoxia Task Force, and eventually result in the Action Plan.

Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force – Gulf Hypoxia Action Plan 2008 for reducing, mitigating, and controlling hypoxia in the northern Gulf of Mexico and improving water quality in the Mississippi River Basin.

The subsequent history of the Action Plan has been one of inadequate funding and slower than needed activity, along with steps that have slowed what would have been an even larger nutrient load into the system. Yet it remains the national policy vehicle for dealing with hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico and the problem of nutrient loading in the Mississippi River Basin, a problem which also impacts drinking water and habitats upstream – and an effort in which all of us in the basin are participants in one way or another.

Agricultural runoff from the Upper Mississippi River Basin is one of the biggest contributors to the Gulf of Mexico Hypoxic Zone.

The actions of federal and state agencies are only one component of the effort to reduce nutrient pollution in the Mississippi River and its tributaries. The Mississippi River Network (MRN) is working with our partners to help the public become involved in major issues like nutrient pollution reduction as River Citizens in the 1Mississippi Project. In subsequent posts, we’ll look at how we can help move the Gulf Hypoxia Action Plan and related efforts forward, and how that work connects with our other priority issues, such as expanding the use of natural infrastructure in flood planning and response.

-Doug Daigle, Mississippi River Network, Policy Manager

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