Image courtesy of http://www.cop.noaa.gov/images/GOMhypoxia_map.jpg

The Gulf of Mexico is over 500 miles south of Illinois, yet we are very connected to it via our rivers and streams. Most of Illinois’ waterways flow into the Mississippi River, and the Mississippi River flows to the Gulf of Mexico. As such, water pollution that originates in Illinois can and often does pollute the Gulf.

The Problem: Nitrogen and Phosphorus Pollution

In fact, nitrogen and phosphorus pollution from Illinois and other states in the Mississippi River Basin contributes to the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone, which is a vast area that forms off the coast of Louisiana each summer that is so depleted of oxygen that fish and other water species cannot breathe. Those species that are not capable of escaping the Dead Zone, such as shrimp and crab, perish.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that the Dead Zone costs US seafood and tourism industries $82 million dollars/year.

Scientists have determined that nitrogen and phosphorus pollution are the leading causes of the Dead Zone. When there are too many of these pollutants in the ocean, algae that feed on the nitrogen and phosphorus become excessively abundant, forming noxious algal blooms. When these blooms die, the process of decomposition robs the water of oxygen, creating the Dead Zone. Recent studies by the U.S. Geological Survey have concluded that of all states whose rivers flow into the Gulf of Mexico, Illinois is the largest contributor of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution. Some of this pollution comes from sewage treatment plants and agriculture, including factory farms.

Algae bloom in Mississippi River floodplain

Algae in the Mississippi River floodplain

The Solution: Reducing Nutrient Pollution

Prairie Rivers Network has joined forces with sister organizations along the Mississippi River to reduce the amount of pollution entering this great river and the Gulf of Mexico. The Mississippi River Water Quality Collaborative consists of 12 environmental and legal partners devoted to clean water and river protection. Our work with the Collaborative includes pushing Illinois to adopt numeric criteria for nitrogen and phosphorus, challenging water pollution permits, and promoting conservation practices on agricultural lands.

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