Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Stronger EPA leadership needed to improve water quality in Mississippi River

17.10.2007
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency must take a more aggressive leadership role in implementing the Clean Water Act if water quality in the Mississippi River and the northern Gulf of Mexico is to improve, says a new report from the National Research Council.

EPA has failed to use its authority under the act to adequately coordinate and oversee state activities along the Mississippi and ensure progress toward the act's goal of "fishable and swimmable" waters, the report says. States along the river also must be more proactive and cooperative in their efforts to monitor and improve water quality.

In particular, greater effort is needed to ensure that the river is monitored and evaluated as a single system, said the committee that wrote the report. The 10 states along the river corridor all conduct their own programs to monitor water quality, but state resources devoted to these programs vary widely, and there is no single program that oversees the entire river, making it an "orphan" in terms of monitoring and assessment of its water quality, the report says. It recommends that EPA take the lead in coordinating these tasks along the river.

"The limited attention being given to monitoring and managing the Mississippi's water quality does not match the river's significant economic, ecological, and cultural importance," said committee chair David A. Dzombak, Blenko Professor of Environmental Engineering and director of the Steinbrenner Institute for Environmental Education and Research at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh. "In addressing water-quality problems in the river, EPA and the states should draw upon the useful experience in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, where for decades the agency has been working together with states surrounding the bay to reduce nutrient pollution and improve water quality. EPA should demonstrate similar leadership for the Mississippi River."

The report evaluates efforts to implement the Clean Water Act along the Mississippi, which flows 2,300 miles from Minnesota's Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico. The river is used by millions of people along a 10-state corridor for drinking water, commercial shipping, and recreation; it also is home to many valuable ecosystems, all of which depend on the river's water quality.

Measures taken under the Clean Water Act have successfully reduced much point source pollution, such as direct discharges from factories and wastewater treatment plants, the report says. But many of the Mississippi's remaining pollution problems stem from nonpoint sources -- mainly nutrients and sediments that enter the river and its tributaries through runoff, the committee said. Nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorous from fertilizers, create significant water-quality problems in the river itself and contribute to an oxygen-deficient "dead zone" in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Sediments present a more complex problem; in the upper Mississippi, they are too plentiful and considered a pollutant, while in the lower river, sediments are too scarce -- a shortfall that is contributing to losses of coastal wetlands in southern Louisiana.

Given that the Clean Water Act addresses nonpoint source pollution only in a limited manner, and that the Mississippi's water quality also is affected by physical structures which the Act cannot alter -- such as dams and levees -- the Clean Water Act cannot be the only means for improving water quality in the river and Gulf, the report says. Nevertheless, it can effectively address many aspects of pollution in these waters if the law's provisions are comprehensively implemented.

Currently, efforts to monitor and improve water quality in the Mississippi are complicated by the river's interstate nature. According to the Clean Water Act, states are responsible for establishing water-quality standards and for monitoring water quality, but many states that are bordered by the Mississippi River devote few resources to monitoring and assessing the river, and there is little cooperation among states.

The Clean Water Act gives most authority for coordinating and overseeing interstate water quality to EPA, the report observes. Still, the dead zone in the northern Gulf of Mexico persists and clearly is not "fishable and swimmable." And currently, there are no water-quality standards for nutrients for most of the Mississippi River.

To diminish nutrient pollution, EPA should exert the federal leadership that the Clean Water Act allows and work with states to develop water-quality standards that protect the Mississippi River and the northern Gulf of Mexico, the report says. The agency also should work with states to develop a federal Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), or its equivalent, for nutrient pollutants for the river and northern Gulf. Mandated by the Clean Water Act, a TMDL is a numerical limit on the amount of a pollutant that a water body can accept and still meet its water-quality standards.

The states along the Mississippi River corridor need to improve their cooperative activities, the committee also said. In five states, the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association has promoted many cooperative water-quality studies and other initiatives; currently there is no similar organization for the lower-river states, which should strive to create one. EPA also should support better coordination among states, and among its four regional offices along the river corridor, the report says.

In addition, EPA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture should work together more closely to reduce harmful runoff from agriculture. USDA's conservation programs for protecting water quality should target areas that contribute higher levels of nutrient and sediment runoff to the river, the committee said. Growing interest in biofuels -- which may increase crop production and therefore nutrient runoff from use of fertilizers -- makes improved EPA-USDA cooperation in the Mississippi River basin all the more urgent.

The study was sponsored by the McKnight Foundation of Minneapolis. The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies. They are private, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter. The Research Council is the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. A committee roster follows.

Sara Frueh | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.nas.edu
http://www.nap.edu

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht How fires are changing the tundra’s face
12.12.2017 | Gesellschaft für Ökologie e.V.

nachricht Using drones to estimate crop damage by wild boars
12.12.2017 | Gesellschaft für Ökologie e.V.

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Long-lived storage of a photonic qubit for worldwide teleportation

MPQ scientists achieve long storage times for photonic quantum bits which break the lower bound for direct teleportation in a global quantum network.

Concerning the development of quantum memories for the realization of global quantum networks, scientists of the Quantum Dynamics Division led by Professor...

Im Focus: Electromagnetic water cloak eliminates drag and wake

Detailed calculations show water cloaks are feasible with today's technology

Researchers have developed a water cloaking concept based on electromagnetic forces that could eliminate an object's wake, greatly reducing its drag while...

Im Focus: Scientists channel graphene to understand filtration and ion transport into cells

Tiny pores at a cell's entryway act as miniature bouncers, letting in some electrically charged atoms--ions--but blocking others. Operating as exquisitely sensitive filters, these "ion channels" play a critical role in biological functions such as muscle contraction and the firing of brain cells.

To rapidly transport the right ions through the cell membrane, the tiny channels rely on a complex interplay between the ions and surrounding molecules,...

Im Focus: Towards data storage at the single molecule level

The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.

Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...

Im Focus: Successful Mechanical Testing of Nanowires

With innovative experiments, researchers at the Helmholtz-Zentrums Geesthacht and the Technical University Hamburg unravel why tiny metallic structures are extremely strong

Light-weight and simultaneously strong – porous metallic nanomaterials promise interesting applications as, for instance, for future aeroplanes with enhanced...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

AKL’18: The opportunities and challenges of digitalization in the laser industry

07.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Long-lived storage of a photonic qubit for worldwide teleportation

12.12.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Multi-year submarine-canyon study challenges textbook theories about turbidity currents

12.12.2017 | Earth Sciences

Electromagnetic water cloak eliminates drag and wake

12.12.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>