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Hypoxia Task Force closing in on state nutrient reduction goals

The Mississippi River Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force is not exactly a “household” word when it comes to environmental issues. The Hypoxia Zone or “dead zone” are terms more people think about when they ponder the issue of excess nitrogen going into the Gulf of Mexico.

But the Hypoxia Task Force, the shorter name task force members often use, could have a greater impact on the hypoxia problem through its state-by-state, watershed-by-watershed approach than any of the environmental activist groups that have been calling for federal regulation of fertilizer applications.

“This Hypoxia Task Force has been around more than 15 years now; it’s evolved a lot; and now the strategies are really state-driven,” said Bill Northey, secretary of agriculture in Iowa and chairman of the Hypoxia Task Force. “Each of our states are going through the process or have finished the process of developing state nutrient reduction plans.”

Northey, a corn and soybean producer from Spirit Lake, Iowa, says the task force has four states left of the 13 states that comprise the Mississippi River Basin that are working to complete their nutrient reduction strategies.

“This is where we would take a piece of this and look at it in our own states,” he said. “We in Iowa are looking at nutrient reduction, both of nitrogen and phosphorus statewide, but we focus on certain priority watersheds. Others are looking at lakes and those kinds of things. It is really state-driven.”

Northey said the task force has tapped into a number of partnerships, including EPA, the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and state groups such as the Arkansas Natural Resources Conservation Commission and the Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts.

The latter organized a tour of several Arkansas Discovery Farms, which are involved in nutrient reduction and water quality projects being funded and conducted by the USDA’s NRCS, the Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts and the University of Arkansas, in conjunction with the Hypoxia Task Force’s spring meeting on May 21.

“I want to thank all of those who had a part in the tour,” said Nancy Stoner, acting assistant administrator, Office of Water, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, who co-chaired the meeting. “It certainly gave us some new perspectives on the water quality issues in the Mississippi River Basin.”

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