The Dead Zone at the mouth of the Mississippi in the Gulf of Mexico is directly attributed to agriculture. In fact, agriculture is a leading source of water pollution in the 10 states that border the Mississippi River.
A new report - Making EQIP Work for Water Quality in 10 Mississippi River Border States - by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), found that enrolling farmers into the voluntary federal Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) is unlikely to result in cleaner water unless taxpayer funds are targeted to the highest priority locations and used in watershed-scale clean-up projects.
EWG’s report on the 10 Mississippi River border states that the EQIP program, which pays farmers and ranchers to reduce farm runoff, improve water and air quality and preserve wildlife habitat, is a promising but unfocused tool for remedying the unintended environmental consequences of agriculture. EWG believes that in order to remedy the problem the USDA President must set clear and specific goals for how much pollution needs to be reduced, identify which lakes, streams or tributaries are priorities for improvement, and set a timetable to achieve those goals.
The EWG report recommends that the 10 states bordering the Mississippi River use 60 % of their EQIP funds in watershed-scale water quality clean-up projects. This approach encourages multiple farmers in a watershed – the land draining into a specific stream, river, or lake – to reduce pollution by an amount needed to restore that water body’s water quality.
“If USDA takes quick action to target these funds, we can seize an important opportunity to protect the Mississippi River and mitigate the annual Gulf Dead Zone catastrophe,” said Michelle Perez, EWG senior agriculture analyst and co-author of the report.
The EWG has long-identified agriculture as a leading source of sediment, nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in the nation’s waterways. In 2008, the US Geological Society identified fertilizers and livestock waste from farmlands in just 9 states (7 of which border the Mississippi River) as the source of over 70 % of the nitrogen and phosphorus pollution causing the 8,000 square mile Dead Zone in the Northern Gulf of Mexico.
Read the EQIP Summary Report here.