Policymakers and Scientists Meet to Tackle Gulf Dead Zone and Restoration

This year’s MS River flooding was another missed opportunity for land building that would protect Louisiana’s CoastLast week, I joined policymakers and scientists at a meeting to discuss reducing Dead Zone pollution in the Gulf and environmental restoration issues. The Gulf of Mexico Alliance and the Hypoxia Task Force held a three day meeting in New Orleans aiming to convince policymakers in the Gulf and in the Midwest to work together to reduce the amount of urban and agricultural runoff that travels to the Gulf each year by way of the Mississippi River.This focus on the Dead Zone (the “hypoxic zone” in tech-speak), was timely as this year’s Dead Zone measurement was just released. The panels and working groups discussed the myriad of challenges and solutions to addressing this problem and proposed creating a coordinated framework of action to better understand how priorities overlap. One reoccurring theme in many of these discussions was the need for better funding of programs and projects aimed at implementing solutions as well as the need for improvement in outreach and public education.To truly address the Dead Zone, the EPA must also put into place pollution limits and establish a clean up plan for the Mississippi River basin, as the voluntary mechanisms currently in place are not sufficient. Unfortunately, a formal request by GRN and the Mississippi River Collaborative to establish numeric limits on nitrogen and phosphorous pollution, which causes the Dead Zone, and to create a watershed clean up plan was recently denied. (See Matt Rota’s Blog)At last week’s meeting, one thing abundantly clear, whether the discussion was focused on hypoxia or restoration, there is a need to define the threats to the Gulf, the benefits this ecosystem has to the nation and to communicate that effectively to policymakers and the public at large.GRN works to do this everyday, and we’re excited to see more organizations joining the effort. Harte Research Institute along with partners Harwell Gentile & Associates, LC and University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science are working together to develop a comprehensive Report Card to help gauge the health of the Gulf of Mexico Ecosystems. The Report Card will provide scientific information necessary to evaluate the health of the Gulf, to demonstrate it’s progress, or perhaps lack there-of, toward long-term goals, and to inform decision makers on the policies and resources needed to achieve sustainability of a healthy Gulf.Michelle Erenberg is the Special Projects Coordinator of the Gulf Future Coalition

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