By Barbara Kessler

Flooding along the Mississippi River and its tributaries is creating a secondary environmental problem that’s not so secondary. As record-breaking runoff carrying sewage and fertilizers heads to the Gulf of Mexico, researchers and federal officials fear it will cause the largest algal bloom ever in the coastal waters.

The “bloom” causes a dead zone each summer as the overgrowth of algae promoted by the phosphorus and nitrogen-rich run off depletes the off shore waters of oxygen, killing or reducing the populations of shrimp, oysters and other marine life.

“The Gulf’s world class recreational and commercial fishing is at stake,” explained Garret Graves, chairman of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority and a member of a joint federal-state task force that met last week in New Orleans to address the problem.

“This industry is not only a major contributor to the region’s economy, but is a huge part of the heritage of the people of our state and region,’’ he said. “The culture of fishing has shaped South Louisiana and the rest of the Gulf and we must do all we can to preserve that culture.”

Not to mention the related food and jobs.

The task force is asking citizens upstream to try to reduce the “nutrient pollution” by reducing nitrogen and fertilizer dumping into the Mississippi and through better watershed and conservation practices.

The task force was formed in 1998. Its members include representatives from several federal agencies, including the EPA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and officials from Mississippi River states as well as Ohio, whose Ohio River contributes to the Mississippi.

For more information see the task force action plan.

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