Policy: Environment & Energy

River diversions proposed to help Gulf 'dead zone'

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Louisiana,Energy and Environment

BATON ROUGE, La. — A proposed new strategy for reducing the annual "dead zone" off Louisiana's Gulf coast relies heavily on river water diversions to remove nutrients that deplete oxygen levels to the point they no longer support aquatic life.

The authors of a draft report of the plan say the state's contribution to the dead zone is minimal. Most of the nutrients, primarily nitrogen and phosphorus, come from states upstream in largely agricultural and metropolitan areas.

Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain said the state's plan goes beyond just contributions to the dead zone through the Mississippi River and looks at all the state's waterways.

"It's much more encompassing," Strain said.

The Advocate reports some critics have voiced concerns that the draft strategy is lacking in specific actions and doesn't go much beyond maintaining the status quo.

"It's a pre-strategy I guess. I don't really see it as a strategy because it doesn't really have anything other than ongoing activities and diversions," said Doug Daigle, coordinator of the Louisiana hypoxia working group and the lower Mississippi River subcommittee.

Even though it's true Louisiana has never been a major source of the nutrients causing the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico each summer, environmentalists say, that doesn't mean more can't be done.

"Regretfully, I was disappointed in it," said Matt Rota, senior policy director with the Gulf Restoration Network. The strategy doesn't include specific goals and timelines for nutrient reductions and the activity list is primarily administrative issues, he said.

"It seems like a list of this is what we have been doing, but I don't see anything to move the ball forward," Rota said.

Four state agencies worked to develop the plan to fulfill an obligation as members of the Mississippi River Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force, which was put in place to try to reduce the size of the annual dead zone of low oxygen that forms off the coast of Louisiana every summer.

Within that task force's 2008 action plan, the overall goal is to reduce the five-year running average of the dead zone to less than 1,930 square miles by 2015 through voluntary actions coordinated through federal agencies, states and tribes. In 2013, this dead zone was measured to be 5,800 square miles.

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