State Officials Defend Iowa's Nutrient Reduction Strategy

Iowa Farm Scene

Iowa leaders say voluntary approach to reducing farm runoff will work if given a chance.

Published on: July 31, 2013

Last year the Dead Zone was 2,889 square miles, the fourth-smallest on record because of the drought. The record, in 2002, was 8,481 square miles, and the smallest was 15 square miles in 1988. The average over the past 5 years has been 5,176 square miles. The federal task force working on the Dead Zone wants the hypoxic area reduced to 1,930 square miles.

The Louisiana scientists say high winds in the Gulf kept the Dead Zone smaller than had been predicted, preventing hypoxia from forming in places this summer. Not only was the area smaller than expected, but oxygen levels in the water were relatively high, even in the Dead Zone.

The low-oxygen Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico is caused in part by Midwest fertilizers which cause algae to grow in the Gulf. When algae die, they consume oxygen, forcing sea creatures to move elsewhere or die. That disrupts the Gulf area, one of the nation's top fishing areas. Iowa is the nation's top corn growing state and is the source of some of the biggest nitrogen loads entering the Mississippi River flowing to the Gulf.

Iowa Environmental Council says Dead Zone signifies lack of action by U.S. EPA and state regulatory agencies

"Giving a voice to the majority of Iowans who share this concern, we have repeatedly called on state leaders to set clear, measurable goals for reducing Iowa's contribution to the Dead Zone," says Ralph Rosenberg, executive director of the Iowa Environmental Council. "Iowa's Nutrient Reduction Strategy, the state government's proposed plan, does not currently explain how this will take place. The plan has no timetable or deadline to reach its clean water goals. The many stakeholders—those who rely on Iowa's waters for drinking water supply or for fishing or canoeing—they have no way of knowing when that progress will be made or how the progress will be measured."