Hypoxia task force launches new water quality monitoring efforts

Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

The Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient (Hypoxia) Task Force is launching two new efforts to monitor reductions in nutrients – nitrogen and phosphorus – throughout the watershed. The joint federal, state and tribal task force, chaired by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the State of Iowa, has established the Mississippi River Monitoring Collaborative to evaluate progress toward reducing the amount of nutrients entering local waterways and ultimately to the Gulf of Mexico. 

USDA, a member of the task force is also preparing to update its technical standard for water quality monitoring to better measure the amount of nutrients coming from farm fields.

Nutrient runoff from agricultural, urban and industrial sources is blamed for polluting waterways and contributing to the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico – an area of low oxygen that is largely uninhabitable by fish and other marine life. Federal, state and local agencies, together with private landowners and water users, have been working to reduce the amount of nutrients that reaches the Gulf.

“Farmers, ranchers and other land managers, with help from federal, state and local funding sources and technical assistance, are investing in conservation projects on their lands in the Mississippi River Basin,” said Nancy Stoner, acting assistant administrator for water at EPA and co-chair of the task force. ”Working together to expand monitoring will give us critical insight into the progress of conservation projects and help us improve activities on the ground and in the water.”

The new Mississippi River Monitoring Collaborative, made up of federal and state agencies, is identifying streams with long-term nutrient monitoring and streamflow records. So far, the team has collected more than 670,000 nutrient data records from 12 states in the Mississippi River Basin, which it will use to evaluate where conservation practices and policies are working, and where new or enhanced nutrient reduction strategies need to be developed. 

“It is important we continue to have strong cooperation as we work together to monitor the progress cities, industries and farmers are making as they work to make changes and address water quality concerns,” said Bill Northey, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture and task force co-chair.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), with assistance from EPA, the U.S. Geological Survey and many state partners, are working to improve monitoring through pilot programs of the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI). One of the primary goals of the MRBI is to improve water quality in small priority watersheds of the Mississippi River Basin. NRCS and its partners have sought to capture the benefits of MRBI by measuring water quality at the edge-of-field, in stream and at the outlet of a watershed. This year NRCS reviewed progress in 15 small watersheds with MRBI projects in order to update its technical standard for water quality monitoring.

The Task Force consists of five federal agencies, 12 states and the tribes within the Mississippi/Atchafalaya River Basin (MARB). The Task Force was established in 1997 to reduce and control hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico. Visit http://water.epa.gov/type/watersheds/named/msbasin/index.cfm