Waterborne Environmental Attends USEPA Hypoxia Task Force Spring 2016 Meeting
Aquatic hypoxia, or low oxygen, is an environmental phenomenon where the concentration of dissolved oxygen in the water column is too low to support living aquatic organisms. According to USEPA, hypoxic areas, or “dead zones,” have increased in duration and frequency across our planet’s oceans. A variety of factors can cause hypoxia, including water stratification due to saline or temperature gradients and excess nutrients (primarily nitrogen and phosphorus). The accumulation of excess nutrients, known as eutrophication, promotes algae growth that consumes oxygen as it decomposes, resulting in low levels of oxygen*.
In the fall of 1997, the USEPA established the Hypoxia Task Force in response to eutrophication occurring in the Gulf of Mexico. The task force was put in charge of coordinating activities to reduce the size, severity and duration of eutrophication and mitigate the effects of hypoxia, as well as support hypoxia related activities in the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico watersheds**.
In 2008 the Hypoxia Task Force set a goal for states comprising the Mississippi/Atchafalaya River Basin (MARB) to reduce the areal extent of the Gulf of Mexico hypoxic zone to less than 5000 km2 by 2015. This was drastically missed and in February 2015 the Hypoxia Task Force announced a 20-year extension to the 2008 goal, also setting a secondary 20% reduction goal of nutrient load by 2025. To address this important update, the USEPA Hypoxia Task Force hosted a meeting this spring in St. Louis, MO to provide key updates on hypoxia action. Two of our nutrient experts, Dr. Dan Perkins and Greg Goodwin, attended.
Nutrient runoff is an issue Waterborne has been tracking and working with our clients to address. To that end, Waterborne also attended the 2016 USEPA Hypoxia Task Force Spring meeting in support of ongoing partnerships with Illinois Corn Growers Association (ICGA), Missouri Corn Merchandising Council (MCMC) and Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council (MSMC). While there, Waterborne presented a poster highlighting SWAT modeling on cover crop adoption rates and subsequent nutrient reduction in the Indian Creek watershed in central Illinois. Implementing cover crops in all of the corn-soybean areas in a watershed that are dominated with tile-drained agriculture resulted in a 30% SWAT-simulated nitrate load reduction. This study demonstrated the effectiveness of cover crops in improving soil health and reducing nitrogen loss at the watershed scale and that adoption rates are key to achieving higher nutrient load reductions. This poster sought to educate viewers about one portion of the larger nutrient reduction program ICGA, MCMC and MSMC have implemented to address USEPA’s nutrient loss reduction goals. All organizations understand that meeting the USEPA reduction goals will require novel and multifaceted approaches, targeting no single nutrient loss source but many sources. This is inherent to nonpoint source pollution and one reason why this issue is so complex to address.
The USEPA Hypoxia Task Force goal poses a challenge to growers as they face continual challenges to boost yields, efficiently increase production and remain profitable. Concerns have been raised regarding regulatory measures that may be taken and the subsequent impacts that may result as the USEPA works to meet these goals. Individual state stakeholder groups are proactively trying to understand and identify stewardship and management practices that will successfully help growers and states address nutrient runoff challenges.
Waterborne brings over 20 years of environmental fate experience to partnerships such as ICGA, MCMC and MSMC. We are dedicated to understanding and aiding efforts that help MARB states manage the various nutrient specific pathways that contribute to the overall issues in the Gulf of Mexico.
Contact Dr. Dan Perkins, firstname.lastname@example.org, with any nutrient questions.