Jul 11, 2018

Iowa Water Pollution into Gulf of Mexico Worsening Despite Recent Funding Efforts

Despite increased funding, the state is struggling to manage its nitrogen pollution

Despite significant funding efforts, Iowa's nitrogen pollution contribution to the Gulf of Mexico is worsening

Over the past two decades, nitrogen pollution sourced from the state of Iowa has worsened by nearly 50%. This is in spite of the fact that the state has seen significant funding efforts to curb soil nutrients from entering waterways throughout the state.

Now, via a study conducted at the University of Iowa, it is revealed that the state’s contribution to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico jumped by 47% in the year 2016 alone, injecting 618 million pounds of harmful nutrients into the water body.

While the sources of this nitrogen pollution are many, the main culprit stems from the state’s vast farming operations, while urban wastewater and industrial operations round out the significant flow of pollution. Such pollutants flow into both the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, both of which feed directly into the Gulf of Mexico.

This excess of soil nutrients in the Gulf leads to runaway algae growth. This excess of algae then sinks and decomposes, consuming oxygen which robs the amount available to marine life. Inevitably, this depletes the fishing possibilities in the Gulf area, as the affected marine life either dies or leaves the area.

In 2017 alone, the state of Iowa invested $420 million into water quality improvements through a variety of efforts, including the planting of cover crops, building terraces and the implementation of conservation practices, among others.

“We’ve been pouring state and federal money into cutting nutrient pollution for decades, and this highlights the fact that the voluntary approach is not working,” said Jennifer Terry, executive director of the Iowa Environmental Council.

The state will continue efforts to reduce its nutrient contribution to the Gulf of Mexico watershed, but it remains a lopsided perpetrator of nitrogen pollution in the Missouri and Mississippi rivers as well as the gulf.