Researchers say chemical runoff from agricultural land in the Midwest is still feeding 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.

This year, researchers predict a Dead Zone the size of Connecticut, which is consistent with historical averages. Louisiana State University professor Gene Turner says that means the voluntary guidelines established almost 15 years ago to clean-up the Mississippi River aren’t working. Turner says, “Lurking in the background is, well, 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 says it took some 200 years of farming to create the situation and reversing it may take decades. “There’s no evidence that there’s been any reduction in the hypoxic zone size or the amount of nutrients coming down the river,” he says. On the plus side, Turner says promising research from Iowa State University does offer profitable ways for farmers to keep the nutrients they need on the land and out of the waterways.