The so-called dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico is among the largest ever mapped and Iowa environmental activists urge Congress to inject more conservation into the farm bill to help prevent more pollution from reaching the Mississippi River from farm chemical run-off. Susan Heathcote, water program director of the Iowa Environmental Council, says the Gulf’s dead zone is now 79-hundred square miles, about the size of New Jersey.
Heathcote says: "Midwest farmers are going to need to reduce their fertilizer applications and also put in place practices to control some of the nutrient pollution before it reaches the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. Of course these changes are going to cost farmers money." She says it’s little surprise the dead zone is so large, given the increased demand for corn and ethanol, meaning more nitrogen fertilizer is being applied to farmland in the Mississippi River Basin.
Heathcote says, "The farm bill that is being written right now has a lot of promise to be able to provide farmers in Iowa and the rest of the Midwest with more options for the types of crops they can grow, certainly more perennial crops on the landscape are going to help to reduce some of the nutrient pollution that’s leading to the dead zone." She says the nation has to be willing to help farmers invest in conservation practices that can diversify the Midwest’s agriculture while cutting fertilizer pollution and keeping our waters clean and healthy.
Heathcote says: "When we’re looking at water quality problems here in Iowa, we have the same problems in our local lakes and rivers with excess nutrient pollution causing problems locally. So anything we do to reduce nutrient pollution in the Gulf of Mexico is also going to improve our water quality here in Iowa." Over the past 22 years, researchers say the average size of the Gulf’s dead zone is 52-hundred square miles, putting this year’s dead zone of 79-hundred well above average and among the top three ever mapped. For more information, visit "www.iaenvironment.org".