Even in the absence of an increased production of corn ethanol, Mike Millikin tell us, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh warn that an aggressive nutrient management strategy is needed to reduce the extent of the Dead Zone located in the Basin of the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers.
“Summertime satellite observations show highly turbid waters in the Gulf of Mexico which may include large blooms of phytoplankton extending from the mouth of the Mississippi River all the way to the Texas coast. When these blooms die and sink to the bottom, bacterial decomposition strips oxygen from the surrounding water, creating an environment very difficult for marine life to survive in. Reds and oranges represent high concentrations of phytoplankton and river sediment.”
The study focused upon how increased nitrate loadings contribute to the expansion of zones of hypoxia, i.e., oxygen depletion in aquatic eco-systems.
Nitrogen and phosphorus from agricultural fertilizer have been found to promote excess growth of algae in water bodies—a problem that’s common across North America and in many areas of the world. In some cases, decomposition of algae consumes much of the oxygen in the water. Fertilizer applied to cornfields in the central US—including states such as Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska and Wisconsin—is the primary source of nitrogen pollution in the Mississippi River system, which drains into the Gulf of Mexico.
It is unlikely that our Congress critters might admit that they made a mistake with their COB (Cruise On Booze) policy. And, with current efforts to incapacitate a “reluctant” (as nice a word as I could find) EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), which is responsible for enforcement of the Clean Water Act, it is even more unlikely that Congress will challenge A-BAUAAAErs (those promoting Agri-Business As Usual And Above All Else).
While Big Oil, and the governments it owns, are not known for thinking about the future of life on the planet as we know it, we want to trust that those that feed us: “salt of the Earth” farmers — consider such issues. Unfortunately, for farmers, fishers and baby black bears that have joined The Colbert Nation, agri-business, a.k.a., Big Farm, is unlikely to adopt long term, sustainable practices.
While enforced buffer zones are needed, it would seem that pollution of the watershed by runoff (petroleum based fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides) will continue unabated. And, instead of a greater awareness that water is a precious, natural resource, we see in “advanced countries” a proliferation of factory farming.
CAFO (Confined Animal Feed Operations). These techniques, to produce the highest output at the lowest cost, include the use of antibiotics and pesticides to mitigate the spread of disease, which is more likely to occur in high stocking environments. Factory farming practices also include questionable feeding practices, e.g., antibiotics and hormones to stimulate livestock growth and atypical feed supplementation.
Hazardous practices stemming from factory farming extend beyond discharge of ammonia, nitrogen, and phosphorus that can reduce oxygen levels in aquatic eco-systems and result in “dead zones”. The CDC has identified a number of pollutants associated with the discharge of animal waste into rivers and lakes.
The use of antibiotics may create antibiotic-resistant pathogens; parasites, bacteria, and viruses may be spread; pesticides and hormones may cause hormone-related changes in fish; animal feed and feathers may stunt the growth of desirable plants in surface waters and provide nutrients to disease-causing micro-organisms; trace elements such as arsenic and copper, which are harmful to human health, may contaminate surface waters.
Since Old King Coal won the 2008 election, this blog has focused more upon water pollution from the production of energy. Still, it is estimated that agriculture consumes approximately 70 percent of available freshwater. Something to give one pause for thought, eh?
GCC Recommended Resource
Christine Costello, W. Michael Griffin, Amy E. Landis and H. Scott Matthew (2009) Impact of Biofuel Crop Production on the Formation of Hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico. Environ. Sci. Technol., Article ASAP
Further Reading Recommended by Wikipedia
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- Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone Shrinks (scientificamerican.com)