Despite decades of conservation efforts, water quality in the huge Mississippi River Basin is on the decline. According to U.S. federal scientists, the combined impact of urban and agricultural infrastructures have taken a toll. Now, both those who depend on the river system and who live downstream in the Gulf of Mexico are sharing concerns, says National Geographic.
In a Congressional hearing on Capitol Hill last week, scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey said that the levels of nitrate found in the main stem and four tributaries of the Mississippi River increased at more than half of tested sites from 1980 to 2010. Overall, the levels increased by 14%.
The study focuses on nitrate, and not other, perhaps more vicious-sounding, chemicals and minerals. It plays an important role because it is essential for plants, but excess can lead to overgrowths of algae (called blooms) which use up too much oxygen. As a result, they suffocate fish and grasses and potentially even release toxic chemicals. Blooms in several waterways, including Puget Sound, the Chesapeake Bay, and Long Island Sound have already caused “dead zones.”
“What’s dangerous about nitrate is that it can seep into the public drinking water,” explains Shar Ceasar, Marketing Manager at Brondell. “The EPA regulates levels of nitrate, but many people use additional water filter systems in the home to be safe.”
In addition to finding ways to take pollutants out of the water, policymakers are also now trying to better handle invasive species like Asian Carp.
“It’s good for the economy, good for the river. An Asian carp jumped and hit my brother-in-law’s wife in the chest; it’s a nuisance also in a recreational way,” said Hartford Mayor James Spann.
The Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative includes 59 mayors and is still growing. Its intent is to focus on the River as one unified system, rather than several different waterways. In addition to water quality, it will help local governments address problems with invasive species.
“The Mississippi River is our sacred trust that has given so much to us through recreation and economically,” Grafton Mayor Tom Thompson said. “We need to give back to the river.”
Policymakers working to clean up the Mississippi River area, which is part of the world’s largest navigable river system, is, of course, a good thing. However, with water quality on the decline and invasive species leaving their mark, it is hard to see any progress.
As Brian Clark Howard puts it, “The new findings are a warning about water quality health nationwide, and raise a troubling issue: even when policymakers and environmental advocates try to clean up the waterways, their efforts are not always successful.”
As a result, innovation and collaboration between groups will be vital moving forward.