Iowa has 42 of the 150 watersheds that create the Gulf of Mexico's "Dead Zone"

I just received a press release from the Iowa Environmental Council about new data released this week by the U.S. Geological Survey. The USGS identified “the top 150 polluting watersheds in the Mississippi River Basin that cause the annual 8,000 square-mile ‘Dead Zone’ in the Gulf of Mexico” and found that 42 of those watersheds are in Iowa. I’ve posted the whole press release after the jump, but here is an excerpt:

Marine dead zones can be caused by too many nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) in the water. Excess nutrients cause excess algae growth which, in turn, causes oxygen levels to drop too low to support marine life. […]

This is not the first time that Iowa nutrient problems in Iowa waters have been linked to problems downstream. In January of 2008, USGS identified 9* states, including Iowa, as the source of over 70 percent of the Gulf Dead Zone pollution. Nitrogen and phosphorus pollution from commercial fertilizers and animal manure from farmland were the biggest contributing sources in these states.

“It is ironic that our legislature is currently considering a bill that would weaken new rules proposed by the Iowa DNR to reduce runoff of manure applied to frozen or snow covered cropland during the winter,” said Marian Riggs Gelb, executive director for the Iowa Environmental Council.

I wrote about the “manure in water” bill, which passed the Iowa Senate as SF 432, earlier this week. Organizations opposing that bill include the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the Iowa Environmental Council, the Sierra Club’s Iowa chapter, Iowa Farmers Union, Raccoon River Watershed Association, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, and the Izaak Walton League.

In fact, I received an action alert about this bill from the Sierra Club today. Excerpt:

SF 432 is the Manure Bill, with the first Division of the bill being the Liquid Manure on Frozen Ground issue. It allows the spread of liquid manure on snow or ice covered frozen ground under certain conditions. Sierra Club, and many Iowans, are absolutely opposed to the spread of liquid manure on top of snow, ice or frozen ground. The risk of runoff into Iowa’s streams and lakes is quite high from such activity, especially upon thawing. Fundamentally this bill limits State implementation of Clean Water Act rules.

The Sierra Club wants Iowans to contact House representatives and ask them to remove the Liquid Manure division of SF 432. The floor manager of this bill in Iowa House is Representative Ray Zirkelbach (district 31). Other key Democratic legislators to contact about this bill, according to the Sierra Club, are House Speaker Pat Murphy (district 28), Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (district 67), Representative Mike Reasoner (district 95), Representative Donovan Olson (district 48), and Representative Polly Bukta (district 26).

If you live in any of the above districts, please contact them in the next few days regarding the manure in water bill. You can find contact information at the Iowa House Democrats’ site.

Getting back to the U.S. Geological Survey findings, the Iowa Environmental Council’s water program director, Susan Heathcote, pointed out that Iowans would also benefit from cleaning up our watersheds that contribute to the Gulf of Mexico’s “Dead Zone.” By way of example, she cited the Cedar, Iowa and Des Moines Rivers, which are on the USGS list and also provide drinking water for major population centers in Iowa.

Click “there’s more” to read the rest of the IEC’s press release on this issue.

USGS Identifies 42 Iowa watersheds on short list of ‘Dead Zone’ Polluting Watersheds

Iowa Legislature Must Stop Ignoring Impacts of Poor Manure Management

IOWA, April 2, 2009-For the first time, the U.S. Geological Survey has identified the top 150 polluting watersheds in the Mississippi River Basin that cause the annual 8,000 square-mile “Dead Zone” in the Gulf of Mexico. Many of these top polluting watersheds are in Iowa.

Marine dead zones can be caused by too many nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) in the water. Excess nutrients cause excess algae growth which, in turn, causes oxygen levels to drop too low to support marine life.

The USGS announcement on Wednesday identified 42 Iowa watersheds to be among the top 150 watersheds contributing too much nitrogen and/or phosphorus to the Gulf of Mexico and the resulting Dead Zone.

This is not the first time that Iowa nutrient problems in Iowa waters have been linked to problems downstream. In January of 2008, USGS identified 9* states, including Iowa, as the source of over 70 percent of the Gulf Dead Zone pollution. Nitrogen and phosphorus pollution from commercial fertilizers and animal manure from farmland were the biggest contributing sources in these states.

“It is ironic that our legislature is currently considering a bill that would weaken new rules proposed by the Iowa DNR to reduce runoff of manure applied to frozen or snow covered cropland during the winter,” said Marian Riggs Gelb, executive director for the Iowa Environmental Council.

Riggs Gelb is asking legislators to vote no on House File 790 (Manure on Frozen Ground bill) and to let the Iowa Department of Natural Resources do their job to establish strong rules to protect water quality in our rivers and streams by limiting winter applications of both liquid and solid manure.

The Iowa Environmental Council is urging state policy makers to use the USGS list to prioritize and better direct watershed improvement programs.  

Susan Heathcote, water program director for the Iowa Environmental Council also wants legislators to continue to support funding of state programs, such as the Watershed Improvement Review Board grants program, and to do so in a way that targets funding to high priority watersheds.

Targeting of federal funding to high priority watersheds is important, too, says Heathcote.

“While state funds are a part of the solution, the Environmental Protection Agency and the USDA need to take the lead to target additional federal watershed grants and farm conservation programs to help reduce the Dead Zone, which is a major national priority,” said Heathcote.

Heathcote emphasized that conservation work done in the top 42 polluting Iowa watersheds contributing to the Gulf Dead Zone, is also work that benefits Iowa.

“The Cedar, Iowa and Des Moines Rivers are just a few of our important waters on this USGS list and all are very important water resources for our state. For example, sections of the Des Moines River are listed as impaired by the state because of high nitrogen loading affecting the drinking water for the City of Des Moines,” said Heathcote.

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*The 9 states contributing over 70 percent of the dead zone-causing nitrogen and phosphorus pollutants are: Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, and Mississippi.

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