News Feature | July 13, 2018

Study: Trends In Nitrate Pollution In Gulf Of Mexico

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Nitrogen pollution flowing into the Gulf of Mexico by way of Iowa has grown by nearly 50 percent over the last two decades, according to a new University of Iowa study.

The study found that “the state’s contribution to the Gulf’s dead zone — a region of oxygen-depleted water off the Louisiana and Texas coasts — spiked 47 percent to 618 million pounds in 2016,” Chem.Info reported.

Chris Jones, a research engineer at the UI's IIHR–Hydroscience & Engineering, discussed the overall picture.

"Just based on water quality data, I think we can say we’ve not made much progress over the past 20 years in terms of nitrogen," he said, per The Des Moines Register reported.

For water utilities, nitrate pollution from farms presents a significant cost burden. One Iowa utility, Des Moines Water Works, attempted to fight the cost burden of nitrate pollution in court. Des Moines Water Works waged a lawsuit against agricultural drainage districts in attempt to hold farming interests accountable for the steep price of treating nutrient pollution, but the utility lost.

“Most of the nitrogen pollution stems from farming, although a significant portion can be attributed to urban wastewater and industrial operations. Nitrogen expelled from these locations flows into the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, which make their way to the Gulf of Mexico,” the reported.

The consequence of this trend is the overgrowth algae in the Gulf of Mexico, the write-up stated. When the overgrowth decomposes in the water, it depletes the oxygen available for marine life the ecosystem.

"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.

"We're not headed in the right direction. We need to follow the lead of other states and pass some environmental laws that will actually reduce loads and result in cleaner water," Terry continued.