Scientists from the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium released their annual measurement of the Gulf Dead Zone, which measured 5,008 square miles, almost as large as the state of Connecticut. LUMCON has been measuring the Dead Zone since 1985, and this year’s Dead Zone is three times larger than the Dead Zone Task Force’s 2015 goal.
“While it is known that Louisiana is not one of the top contributors of Dead Zone-causing pollution, that is where the biggest impacts are felt,” said Matt Rota, Senior Policy Director for the Gulf Restoration Network. “Despite this impact, Louisiana is simply not doing enough to make upriver polluters stop polluting the Gulf.”
In February of this year, the Louisiana Attorney General, along with several other Attorneys General filed a “friend-of-the-court” brief, opposing a dead zone pollution clean-up plan for Chesapeake Bay, despite support from states that would be impacted by the plan.
Additionally, Louisiana has attempted to remove Louisiana’s Gulf Waters from their “impaired waters list,” stating that there is not enough evidence to conclude that the Gulf is impacted by the nitrogen and phosphorus pollution that causes the Dead Zone.
“Louisiana and other Mississippi River states are years behind in developing numeric criteria for nitrogen and phosphorus pollution,” said Rota. “We see most of the Mississippi River states dragging their feet, claiming that voluntary actions alone can clean up the Dead Zone. If the past decade of “Action Plans” and “reduction strategies” is any indication, this simply isn’t working.”
“It is obvious that if the states don’t want to address this issue, EPA must act, and regretfully we aren’t seeing significant action from EPA either.” said Rota.
The Dead Zone doesn’t just threaten the fish and fishing communities in its immediate footprint. A ripple effect is felt throughout the Gulf’s $2.8 billion dollar fishing industry with competition and crowding increasing as fishing fleets focus their efforts on unaffected areas. Nitrogen and phosphorus pollution causes environmental problems throughout the entire Mississippi River Basin such as toxic algae blooms resulting in the death of livestock and pets, fish kills, and damages to drinking water supplies.
“Currently we are seeing the impacts of nitrogen and phosphorous pollution, not only off the Louisiana coast, but throughout the country,” said Rota. “From undrinkable water in Toledo to a 4,000 square mile toxic Red Tide looming off the coast of Florida, it is obvious that current efforts to reduce harmful nitrogen and phosphorous pollution are not adequate.”
Despite voluntary initiatives to address the Dead Zone enacted by Louisiana and EPA, the Gulf Dead Zone has only grown bigger. This lack of action forced members of the Mississippi River Collaborative to file suit against EPA in 2012. Specifically, this lawsuit was filed due to EPA’s refusal to set numeric standards for nitrogen and phosphorus pollution and ensure that all states in the river basin meet those standards.