Dead Zone Size Among Largest Ever

For Immediate ReleaseContact: Matt Rota, GRNJuly 31, 2007 Dead Zone Size Among Largest EverGroups throughout Mississippi River Basin Call for ChangeNew Orleans, LA ” With this year’s dead zone among the largest ever mapped, a coalition of organizations is calling for changes to the nation’s farm policies. Groups from throughout the Mississippi River Basin are asking lawmakers to reform policies in this year’s farm bill in order to reduce nitrogen pollution to the Mississippi River, much of which comes from agriculture. Each year, a dead zone is created in the Gulf of Mexico as nitrogen-rich water from the Mississippi River flows into the Gulf of Mexico. A team of researchers led by Dr. Nancy Rabalais from Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium recently mapped the dead zone for this year, which measured at 7,900 square miles, or roughly the size of New Jersey. The average size of the dead zone since mapping began in 1985 is 5,200 square miles, putting this year’s dead zone well above average and among the top three ever mapped. Researchers had predicted a large dead zone this year, fueled by excessive nitrogen levels in the Mississippi River. “It’s really not surprising that the average size of the dead zone is growing,” said Matt Rota, Water Resources Program Director for the Gulf Restoration Network. “With increased corn ethanol production, more nitrogen fertilizer is being applied in the Mississippi River Basin. Without policies to reduce and capture this fertilizer runoff, I fear that this trend toward larger dead zones is going to continue.” Previous versions of the Farm Bill have overwhelmingly favored subsidies for commodities, while underfunding conservation practices that could reduce nitrogen runoff to the Mississippi River. In fact, more than two out of three farmers are rejected when they apply for conservation program funding. Over the last five years, 515,000 applications for cost-share conservation funding were rejected, primarily due to a lack of funding.”Our nation must be willing to help farmers invest in practices that diversify Midwest agriculture, minimize fertilizer pollution, and keep our nation’s waters clean and healthy. The best way to do that is by increasing funding for conservation programs,” said Susan Heathcote, Water Program Director for the Iowa Environmental Council. “Shifting more money in the farm bill toward conservation will not only help reduce the Dead Zone, but improve the health of local streams and lakes suffering from nitrogen pollution.” The U.S. House passed a version of the Farm Bill on July 27, while the Senate will continue the debate later this year.###

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