By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

It’s funny how we take the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico for granted now. No one ever talks about how one would get rid of a dead zone, only how big this year’s manifestation will be.

The 2013 dead zone was predicted to be a whopper, for various reasons, such as Midwest downpours. It will be large, about 5,840 square miles as measured at mid-July, though not record-breaking, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

This compares with a smaller-than-average dead zone last year of 2,889 square miles. Massive drought across the U.S. farmlands kept a lot of gunk out of the rivers, thereby saving marine life hundreds of miles away.

The dead zone phenomenon, which occurs around the world, is caused mainly by fertilizer runoff that ends up spilling into the seas. In the Gulf, the pollution rides down the Mississippi, ultimately creating a vast swath of excessive algae growth (known as algal blooms) that rims the gulf and snuffs the life out of the water by soaking up all the available oxygen.

Dead Zone - 2013 NOAA

In addition to making life miserable or impossible for shrimp, oysters and the fishermen who harvest them, the recurring dead zones threaten recreation and tourism.

NOAA doesn’t like any of that:

“For those who depend upon and enjoy the abundant natural resources of the Gulf of Mexico, it is imperative that we intensify our efforts to reduce nutrient pollution before the ecosystem degrades any further.”

The big question, of course, is how do we “intensify our efforts” and what are “those efforts.”

There’s an EPA-run task force working on this and pardon my cynicism, but their website is written in government-speak.

Bless them for creating an “action plan” to help the Mississippi/Atchafalaya River Basin. I’m sure they’re doing plenty of good things.

But honestly, it’s difficult to tell what’s going on, and even more worrisome, they sound prepared to study this thing to death — which would be ironic, since it’s already dead.

They’re tracking the nitrogen and phosphorous that cause the dead zone, monitoring it, and, god help us, “raising awareness of gulf hypoxia.”

Code blue! We’ve got a case of gulf hypoxia in Room 10.

Dead Zone PROMO Gulf of Mexico 248 width

A wider view of the dead zone. (Graphic: NOAA)

In addition to shortening their name, the Mississippi Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force should box its way out of the mumbo-jumbo on its website.

Here’s a sample goal of theirs: “Advance the adaptive management approach and periodically reassess the state of the science, keep track of progress of both environmental measures and programmatic actions, and seek to continually engage involved stakeholders in order to maximize results.”

I get it, but honestly, the public might be able to help, if the problem was described in English.

Fortunately, there is a lot going on in the U.S. to deal with the massive problem of intensive farming sending gargantuan amounts of synthetic fertilizers into lakes and streams and turning the Mississippi into a river of death.

But you have to jump over to a different EPA website.

It’s also got a sexy title, “Section 319 Nonpoint Source Success Stories.”

But at least here you can read about some of the success stories, and discover that what happens in Iowa doesn’t just wash down the Mississippi, it also stays in Iowa. Because local lakes and streams are being killed by fertilizers all across the U.S. heartland, there are many projects underway to stop this poisoning of our natural resources.

In this case, the NIMBY thing works for us. Turns out all that pollution is a blight upstream and downstream, so there is pressure to change farming methods, stem runoff and quit killing bodies of water.

You can check out what’s going on in your state in the section call Partially or Fully Restored Waterbodies . You might even discover how you can help.

Perhaps if we all pitch in, we can resuscitate the gulf.

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