WASHINGTON --The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Agriculture should jointly establish a Nutrient Control Implementation Initiative (NCII) to learn more about the effectiveness of actions meant to improve water quality throughout the Mississippi River basin and into the northern Gulf of Mexico, says a new report from the National Research Council. The report also advises how to move forward on the larger process of allocating nutrient loading caps -- which entails delegating responsibilities for reducing nutrient pollutants such as nitrogen and phosphorus -- across the basin. In addition, the two agencies should jointly establish a Mississippi River Basin Water Quality Center to administer the NCII and to conduct related water-quality monitoring and research.
"A Nutrient Control Implementation Initiative would represent an important step toward EPA developing water-quality criteria and states setting water-quality standards," said David Moreau, chair of the committee that wrote the report and professor in the departments of city and regional planning and environmental sciences and engineering at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. "However, efforts to reduce nutrients in the northern Gulf of Mexico will face significant management, economic, and public policy challenges, as well as a time lag -- a decade at minimum -- between reducing pollutants across the river basin and identifying water-quality improvements downstream in the gulf."
The Gulf of Mexico's oxygen-depleted "dead zone" derives from excess nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizers and other sources, flowing into the gulf from the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers. Numerous federal and state regulatory agencies and water-quality standards govern conditions across the 31-state river basin. To better meet nutrient and sediment reduction objectives in the Clean Water Act -- and in turn help improve water quality in the Miss
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National Academy of Sciences