The Dead Zone Downstream: Gulf Edition

Yves here. Even though this article discusses the fertilizer-created dead zone as a crisis for Gulf of Mexico shrimpers, this is a manifestation of an ecological problem showing up in other forms around the world.

Written and photographed by Spike Johnson with support from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Originally published in partnership between Grist, the Center for Public Integrity— a nonprofit, nonpartisan newsroom that investigates betrayals of public trust — and The World, a radio program that crosses borders and time zones to bring home the stories that matter

The Ace of Trade trawler motored toward Dean Blanchard’s dock early last summer in southern Louisiana, its skipper slowly winching its nets into storage. Blanchard’s workers, strengthened by a lifetime at sea, worked shirtless in the humid summer air. It was the beginning of hurricane season, and 2019 was on track to be one of the wettest years on record in the U.S. With cigarettes in their mouths, they vaulted aboard the ship to shovel knee-high piles of fish off the fiberglass deck and into holding tanks, where they awaited the 12-inch-thick, semi-translucent pipes that would suck them into the warehouse.

Dean Blanchard Seafood, headquartered on the barrier island of Grand Isle in the Mississippi River Delta, is one of the largest shrimp suppliers in the United States. Blanchard is a squat man with a boxer’s nose, a soft-talking Cajun with the gravelly voice of a lifetime smoker. He fought hard for his livelihood after starting the business 37 years ago, when tensions ran high between established local shrimpers and newly arrived Vietnamese refugees. In the 1990s, Blanchard said that local shrimpers would sometimes pull alongside his dock opening fire with automatic weapons, angry at the market competition Blanchard encouraged through his dealings with the immigrants. He said he always shot back.

Dean Blanchard has been in business for 37 years, distributing shrimp off the barrier island of Grand Isle in the Mississippi River Delta. Spike Johnson

In 2010, Blanchard graduated to political battles with BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster, a spill that sent 4.9 million barrels of oil into his fishing ground. Dean Blanchard Seafood took a hit, and Blanchard later told a reporter that he estimated his business was worth 15 percent of what it was before the spill. He testified in Congress and appeared on national news shows to lobby for his industry.

Increasingly, Blanchard and other Gulf Coast fishermen find themselves reckoning with a different type of pollution, a threat to ocean biodiversity and Louisiana’s $2 billion seafood industry that’s unrelated to oil and much harder to fix.

“Sometimes we’ll get thousands of pounds of shrimp a day, then the next day everything’s gone,” Blanchard said. “When the dead zone comes, it just kills everything.”

The Gulf of Mexico dead zone is a massive, oxygen-deprived swath of water concentrated off the coast of Louisiana and Texas, fed by polluted freshwater from states along the Mississippi River.

The Mississippi is born in Minnesota, its cold water bubbling over football sized rocks that edge the glacial Lake Itasca. From there it begins a walking-paced meander, 2,320 miles toward New Orleans. Like a topological funnel between the Rocky and Appalachian Mountains, the Mississippi drains 40 percent of the contiguous United States, carrying leftover nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizer spread on farmland across the Midwest toward the Delta. The chemicals encourage the growth of algae, which suck up oxygen and choke marine life.

Politicians and environmental scientists from the states responsible for allowing the most fertilizer runoff into the Mississippi — Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana — are encouraging farmers to plant cover crops, change how they rotate crops, and take other measures to prevent polluted river water from barreling toward the Gulf and creating a zone of hypoxia (low oxygen) in one of the country’s most fertile fishing grounds. But these scattered efforts have yet to yield much success.

Small family farms, local conservation groups, and university scientists constitute the driving force of progress, leaving America’s large-scale corporate farmers silent in the background. There is no national prediction from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, its Hypoxia Task Force, or the U.S. Department of Agriculture indicating the total fertilizer load needed to shrink the dead zone. The problem is too complex for straightforward answers: Its outcome relies on rainfall, ocean temperature, soil health, and crop growth rates.

Last year, the dead zone measured as much as 6,952 square miles, larger than Connecticut and much bigger than the 5-year average of 5,770 square miles, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Studies in the journal Science state that the global area of dead zones have quadrupled in the last 50 years, driven by a growing human population and an increase in the need for corn, soybeans, biofuels, and livestock feed.

Few places have felt the consequences harder than Louisiana, the country’s second-largest source of seafood after Alaska. NOAA estimates the dead zone costs the state’s seafood and tourism industries $82 million a year. It has made the work of fishing in the Gulf even more difficult. The dead zone grows in the summer after spring rains from the Midwest wash pollutants south, forcing ocean life to flee to areas where they wouldn’t normally be found. They would normally move from inshore nurseries to offshore spawning grounds, but the lack of oxygen blocks their migration.

So trawlers have been winding up with more small shrimp and fewer of the plump ones customers favor. That decreased volume comes even with improved equipment — new evolutions in radar, winches, and net technology. “So far we have 68,000 pounds a day for the month,” Blanchard said in July, usually a peak month. “Normally, we average about 90,000 pounds a day.”

Dean Blanchard’s workers shovel piles of shrimp aboard the Ace of Trade off the coast of Grand Isle. Spike Johnson

The changing climate plays a role, too, with increased and more intense rainfall that speeds up erosion on farmland. In May, the output of the Mississippi River and its distributary, the Atchafalaya River, was 67 percent above the long-term average between 1980 and 2018, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. This discharge carried 156,000 metric tons of nitrate (the weight of more than 750 Statues of Liberty) and 25,300 metric tons of phosphorus into the Gulf of Mexico last May — 18 percent and 49 percent above long-term averages, respectively.

The obvious solution is to stanch the pollution at its source upstream. But if efforts to trap runoff from farms don’t succeed, wetland restoration projects in the Delta could form a defense of last resort by redirecting the Mississippi’s polluted flow into marshland where contaminants can be absorbed before they hit the ocean.

Seth Blitch, coastal and marine conservation director at Louisiana’s outpost of The Nature Conservancy, sat at his desk in Baton Rouge last June, below a wall-to-wall satellite image of the Mississippi Delta. Like an upside-down tree its printed lines fan out into the ocean.

Two stories below, the real-life Mississippi River slid past behind a levee. The river had breached its western bank, drowning shoreside factories and chemical plants beneath brown water full of earth, fertilizer, and vegetation from the north.

After the Great Mississippi River Flood of 1927 — which submerged 27,000 square miles of land along the river, killing hundreds of people — the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began to raise its banks under the Flood Control Act passed the following year. Today, the Mississippi River levee system is 2,203 miles long, incorporating tributary flood walls and control stations. This mitigates flooding, but it gave birth to a new set of problems.

Before the 20th-Century building spree, a rush of floodwater would have spilled into wetlands, mangroves, and swamps where pollutants would be filtered out by vegetation, before the water seeped toward the sea. But now the levee system funnels water flow, pollutants, and sediment straight to the Gulf of Mexico. Hundreds of miles of navigation channels, pipelines, and exploratory canals built by the oil and gas industry compound the problem. Dredged soil from much of that construction was piled on the edges of waterways, forming piles known as spoil banks, or spoil levees, which impede the natural flow of water. “The process of wetland renourishment by fresh water and sediment in Louisiana is severed by levees,” Blitch said.

The Atchafalaya River Basin comprises about a million acres of wetlands, covering roughly the area of Rhode Island. It typically takes a third of the Mississippi’s water. The Atchafalaya Swamp acts as a filtration system, with plants feeding on nitrogen and phosphorus and slowing the flow of water traveling south.

In 2015, The Nature Conservancy bought nearly 5,400 acres of forest there, a preservation restoration project called the Atchafalaya River Basin Initiative. Once it gets approved by state regulators, the plan is to lower spoil banks to allow nutrient-filled water back into the marshes. “The idea is to restore the flow of water and sediment such that it both floods and drains from the property more like it would have before constructed levees and spoiling altered the flow,” Blitch said. He hopes that the project might one day form a restoration framework for states throughout the Mississippi River Basin.

The Atchafalaya Swamp — part of the Atchafalaya Basin, the largest wetland in the United States — can filter nitrogen and phosphorus out of the Mississippi River as it flows south. Tim Graham / Getty Images

David Chauvin’s Seafood Company teeters on the silty marshland between the mouths of the Atchafalaya and the Mississippi Rivers in Dulac, Louisiana. On a Monday in June, teeming rain battered the tin roofs above Chauvin’s workers as they readied shrimp storage equipment, racing to unload boats escaping the storm. The rain bounced off concrete slick with diesel and fish oil. And a Bobcat mini-digger ferried bucketloads of ice between the freezer and shrimp storage bins, pushing its way through insulation curtains, orange headlights cutting through mist.

Chauvin’s wife, Kim, was frantic — one of their four shrimp trawlers was caught on a sand bar on Grand Isle, near Dean Blanchard’s place, 70 miles east. Switching from cell phone to cell phone, she tried to compile information and mount a rescue plan for a worst-case scenario.

“On the one hand we have tropical depressions, on the other we have this humongous dead zone,” she said. “We’re between a rock and a hard place.”

Kim has met with farming groups keen to help clean up the Gulf Coast. She found that local and family-owned farmers were sympathetic to the plight of shrimpers and recognized their role in the chain of pollution. “I don’t blame the mom and pops,” she said. “It’s usually big corporations who think they don’t have to change.”

Big or small, farmers are largely free to do what they want, because federal regulations don’t require them to curb fertilizer runoff. Oversight mostly falls to state agencies that are often keen on voluntary efforts in place of enforcing rules. Kim would like to see strict federal limits on agricultural pollution entering the Mississippi, backed by fines for non-compliance and reparations for historical damage to Louisiana’s shrimping industry.

Federal agencies have launched efforts to attack the problem. The USDA has granted millions of dollars to agricultural and conservation groups for the development of nutrient reduction strategies. And in 1997, the EPA organized what is now called the Hypoxia Task Force, which later pledged to shrink the dead zone by three quarters before 2015.

But at the end of 2014, with no progress in sight, the task force extended its deadline to 2035, with a new pledge to hit a 20-percent reduction by 2025.

Small family farms, local conservationists, universities, and some local governments have been experimenting with methods to curtail fertilizer runoff. State officials, including Brad Redlin, a manager for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s water-quality program, are trying to nudge farmers into better practices with incentives. They’ve started initiatives in which farmers and local governments split the costs of creating wetland filtration systems, and supported new markets for harvested cover crops so that farmers can recoup some of the cost of planting.

“There’s been little to no taste for regulating agriculture,” Redlin said. “But there’s a level of reassurance that conservation systems do exist out there in the countryside.”

In 2012, Redlin designed a voluntary certification program for farmers in Minnesota, in partnership with the USDA and EPA, that established standards for agricultural water quality. When farmers sign up, the state studies their farms using software that highlights bad practices. Redlin’s program suggests alternative methods to farmers to run their operations cleaner and more efficiently — the reduction of overall fertilizer use, the planting of cover crops, and limiting soil tilling, which leads to erosion.

In 2016, his network of 15 state certifiers began walking across Minnesota’s farmland, field by field, to begin assessments. The process appeals to farmers who want an assessment of the health of their whole farm. If the farm is not up to par, the farmer might have to plant cover crops or build buffers designed to interrupt the flow of runoff. Redlin now has 731 producers certified over a total area of 489,385 acres.

“It’s often expressed that 70 percent of the problem is coming from 20 percent of the people; that’s not invalid,” Redlin said. “But it seems to be a different cliché, like death by a thousand cuts. Every farm is a little bit leaky and the cumulative result is a dead zone in the Gulf.”

Mike Naig, Iowa’s secretary of agriculture, smoothed his navy-blue suit jacket as he sat at a polished wood conference table preparing to co-chair the 2019 meeting of the Hypoxia Task Force in Baton Rouge. Naig comes from a long line of farmers and still travels back to his parent’s farm in northern Iowa to help work the land.

“We all understand that we feed into the Gulf,” he said. “And shame on us if we don’t take advantage of the opportunity to show that we can be effective.”

Naig works as an intermediary between farmers, the USDA, the EPA, and Congress, drumming up support for agricultural conservation projects through funding, policy changes, and permitting. He helps public and private interests collaborate — farmers, fertilizer sellers, environmental scientists, and governments — lining up access to equipment, technical assistance, and financial aid for nutrient-reduction projects. Naig has 14 watershed demonstration projects across the state, which show how cover crops, bioreactors, and wetlands can reduce nutrient runoff on working farmland on a small scale.

According to Naig’s department, his efforts have led to 1 million acres of cover crops planted and 88 completed wetlands, with another 30 under development across Iowa.

Naig thinks federal regulations to curtail runoff would backfire. If it was a regulatory obligation, he argued, the dynamic between farmers and government would breed bitterness. Top-down structures for conservation, enforced federally, he said, would mean flip-flopping on industrial and environmental goals every time a new president landed in the White House.

“We want people to use their own innovative approaches,” Naig said. “I think we’ll get to a better place, and we’ll get there faster, through unleashing people’s creativity.”

In a 2017 Instagram post, the Iowa Department of Agriculture boasted that farmers in the state planted “an estimated 760,000 acres of cover crops.” Iowa Department of Agriculture

Iowa’s 2013 Nutrient Reduction Strategy, a state government initiative to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, promised a 45 percent decrease in fertilizer runoff by 2035, but despite Naig’s efforts there’s been no change yet. Experts say large-scale crop producers have yet to make adaptations to their methods of growing.

For shrimpers living along the Delta like Dean Blanchard and Kim Chauvin, patience is wearing thin. “On a congressional level we need to say enough is enough,” she said. “We need to list annual goals for change, and stick to the plan.”

She said that shrimpers want face-to-face meetings with large-scale commercial farmers and fertilizer companies. They want to show the consequences of current methods of farming on those who live and fish on the coasts. They want fines and regulation for offending agricultural operations and a return to healthier waters.

“We need them to understand what they’re doing to the fishing industry,” Chauvin said. “The states above us should be paying something to the industry that they’re destroying.”

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  1. Piotr K.

    In Baltic sea it seemed to be quite opposite. Because we are building water treatment facilities everywhere, we are not enriching our rivers with communal waste. Yes, there are agricultural sources, but not on the level like you have in US, especially in eastern europe, or “clean” germany, sweden or finland.
    So, many scientist are saying that we starve the baltic ecosystem. This theory is not commonly known, because of “eco lobbying”. When i was in school10-20 years ago i heard we are throwing too much human dung to rivers and Baltic sea. And now fish are dying of starvation, not because over-fishing.

    Ps. Swedish algae problem is not made because Warsaw sewage pipe malfunction ;)

      1. PlutoniumKun

        It isn’t true – although eutrophication has significantly reduced in the Baltic, excessive nutrients and hypoxia is still a problem in much of the sea. There is an up to date (2005) review of the literature with analysis: Long Term Spatial and Temporal trends in Eutrophocation Status in the Baltic Sea. From the abstract:

        Much of the Baltic Sea is currently classified as ‘affected by eutrophication’. The causes for this are twofold. First, current levels of nutrient inputs (nitrogen and phosphorus) from human activities exceed the natural processing capacity with an accumulation of nutrients in the Baltic Sea over the last 50–100 years. Secondly, the Baltic Sea is naturally susceptible to nutrient enrichment due to a combination of long retention times and stratification restricting ventilation of deep waters. Here, based on a unique data set collated from research activities and long‐term monitoring programs, we report on the temporal and spatial trends of eutrophication status for the open Baltic Sea over a 112‐year period using the HELCOM Eutrophication Assessment Tool (HEAT 3.0). Further, we analyse variation in the confidence of the eutrophication status assessment based on a systematic quantitative approach using coefficients of variation in the observations. The classifications in our assessment indicate that the first signs of eutrophication emerged in the mid‐1950s and the central parts of the Baltic Sea changed from being unaffected by eutrophication to being affected. We document improvements in eutrophication status that are direct consequences of long‐term efforts to reduce the inputs of nutrients. The reductions in both nitrogen and phosphorus loads have led to large‐scale alleviation of eutrophication and to a healthier Baltic Sea. Reduced confidence in our assessment is seen more recently due to reductions in the scope of monitoring programs.

        It is true that in areas of sewage sludge dumping (banned some years ago by the EU) you could get ‘hotspots’ of sea life in otherwise naturally low-nutrient areas, and this could have localised impacts on reducing commercial fisheries. But such impacts are very localised and certainly don’t apply across the Baltic, which has for long suffered from eutrophication. Those studies that indicated localised fall-offs in fish numbers have of course been used politically, especially in some east European countries as an excuse for not investing in ungrading sewerage and agricultural treatment facilities.

        1. The Pale Scot

          What I figured, Sewage treatment would just remove what humanity is putting in excess of the balanced ecosystem would be cycling. More effective inputs would be iron, which the Baltic already has plenty of, and phosphorus.

    1. rd

      Its not the wastewater treatment plants typically, it is the dams. They build up large sediment beds with nutrients locked up in them due to algae blooms in the lakes. Many of the deltas are being starved of the sediments and that is one of the reasons for delta and beach erosion around the world. The natural cycle of nutrients coming from upstream has been disrupted which is hurting the delta ecosystems.

      A number of years ago, they were trying to figure out why hatchery salmon hatchlings weren’t surviving when reintroduced in the streams. They eventually figured out that there were no dead salmon in the stream that fed the ecosystem over the winter, so there wasn’t food for the hatchlings in the spring. So they now toss salmon carcasses (or artificial nutrient bricks) in the streams as well as hatchlings. This is also important to the entire surrounding ecosystem, including trees etc.

  2. James Miller

    “Naig thinks federal regulations to curtail runoff would backfire. If it was a regulatory obligation, he argued, the dynamic between farmers and government would breed bitterness. Top-down structures for conservation, enforced federally, he said, would mean flip-flopping on industrial and environmental goals every time a new president landed in the White House.”

    There is ample evidence that factory farming or chemical-intensive farming, large or small, is a terribly inefficient and dangerous way to feed people. It is, however, very profitable for pesticide and chemical fertilizer manufacturers. If the deluge of lobbyists pushing this poor method of agricultural production were deprived of their ability to influence the creation of poor policies, a return of common sense (and a certain enthusiasm for eating) might well create unanimity on better farming practices, as well as a return to profitability of the family farm.
    Here’s a superb film that makes my point, and so much more:

    (The score is incredible, as well as the film itself)

    1. flora

      “Naig thinks federal regulations to curtail runoff would backfire. If it was a regulatory obligation, he argued, the dynamic between farmers and government would breed bitterness.

      I’d guess these would-be ‘bitter-ers’ are the same Big Ag conglomerates currently happy to take the lion’s share of govt crop insurance and crop subsidies.

      Thanks for the link.

      1. flora

        adding: politics aside (if that’s possible) topsoil, like groundwater, is considered a non-renewable resource because it takes on average between 100 and 500 years to create 1 inch of topsoil, depending on location, vegetation, etc.

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          There are a few farmers knowable by name who claim to have re-created topsoil much faster than 1 inch per 100-500 years.

          Dick Yeomans of Australia, inventor of the Yeomans Plow and the Keyline System, is one such. Here is an article about that.

          Here are images of the Yeomans Plow and related

          Here are some images of :Yeomans Keyline Design. ( Yeomans also wrote a book called Water For Every Farm)


  3. anonymouse

    And even if the Louisiana shrimp industry collapses, you can expect nothing to change. We’re expendable. The Midwest conglomerates aren’t.

    The asian shrimp farms will be happy to pick up the slack if you get a hankering for seafood. Competition from imports has already crushed the price of local shrimp and driving the rest of the locals out will just make it more profitable down the line. Until of course the foreigners ruin themselves in the process, but “‘l’ll be gone. You’ll be gone.”, so what does it matter.

    Sure the farm raised shrimp they send over might have so many chemicals in it that it may as well have been rinsed in fracking fluid, but the odds of it being inspected are essentially zero. What you don’t know won’t hurt you, right?

    And only buying packages with “wild caught” written on them won’t help. If you don’t think there’s re-labeling going on among the distributors, then I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

    And now for something completely different …

    In Louisiana at least, the dead zone wasn’t the only problem last year. The Bonne Carre Spillway at the western end of Lake Ponchartrain was open for a very long time in 2019. The influx of freshwater into Lakes Ponchartrain, Borgne, and the marsh beyond caused major problems with the shrimp catch east of the river this year (oysters as well). There’s no telling how many of these missing shrimp would have contributed to Dean Blanchard’s shortfall once they began leaving the inshore marshes. Extra flow through the Atchafalaya Basin to the west surely didn’t help either.

    There’s also a case to be made that the lack of actual marshland contributes to the lack of big shrimp. We’re losing it much faster than people realize. Normally the shrimp would grow in shallow inshore waters and venture further out as they grow in size. With fewer places to hide and many more of them growing up in what is essentially open water, there’s nothing to keep them growing safely out of reach anymore.

    Widespread usage of skimmer nets (ubiquitous by the mid 1990s) rather than trawls and hard frames greatly exacerbates this problem. Skimmers can be used essentially anywhere the boat holding them can navigate freely which opened up a lot of areas which had previously been pretty much off limits. Nowadays, 40 foot long boats skimming in 40 inches of water is more common than you might think. And yes, they do just as much damage to the water bottom and the banks as you think they do. I wouldn’t shed a tear if skimmers were banned statewide rather than just in a few select areas, but a statewide ban is pretty much impossible at this point despite how much good it might do in the long term.

    *ProTip: Buy your seafood directly from local fisherman if possible. You’d be shocked how much cheaper seafood can be when it doesn’t go through five middlemen.

    1. John Zelnicker

      January 29, 2020 at 6:09 am

      Excellent comment! Thank you for providing extra context to the problems of the seafood industry.

      Here in Alabama, the seafood industry centered around Bayou la Batre is smaller but is equally affected by the issues you have in LA. We also have some of your boats coming over into our traditional waters since they can’t get what they need over there.

      I don’t have any skin in the game, except my love for shrimp, but I don’t begrudge the LA shrimpers/fishers who come over here to try to make a living. The entire industry needs to work together to support each other and make the changes needed.

      I don’t want Asian shrimp!

    2. drumlin woodchuckles

      If there could be an Honor Roll of distributors and aggregators and etc. who do NOT re-label aqua-feedlot shrimp as being wild-caught, people living too far from the coast to be able to buy fish directly from a fisherman would still be able to buy “wild caught” that really IS wild caught.

      If there could be such an Honor Roll. If any distributors and/or aggregators could truthfully be placed on such an Honor Roll.

  4. jackiebass

    The same thing happened to the Chesapeake Bay. There are efforts to clean it up but cooperation is marginal. PA is the most guilty of still putting pollution into waterways that eventually ends up in the bay. That’s why it’s shocking to observe so little publicity about the Trump administration rolling back all kinds of regulations. Once damage is done it is costly and takes a lot of time to clean up.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      That’s not the sort of thing the Pink Pussy Hat community cares about. Or ever did. Or ever will.

  5. The Rev Kev

    I can understand the idea of having buffers in place lie the Atchafalaya Swamp to filter out nutrients but I wonder if rising sea levels will act as a spoiler to this idea. And will the increased hurricanes for this region also have an effect on this issue? Not trying to be a Debbie Downer here but I do believe that such contingencies must be planned for if they are not to wreck such plans

  6. flora

    Thanks for this post. I’ll leave a couple links about nitrate runoff in Iowa, specifically about Storm Lake in northwest Iowa.
    The first link is to WaPo about the Storm Lake paper reporting that won the Pulitizer.

    The second link is to the Pulitzer site and includes all the editorials written about the nitrates pollution runoff and the lawsuit trying to stop the runoff pollution. The first editorial in the list, written in March 2016, is well worth reading. Big money and politics vs known remediations .

    “BV is losing losing the public”.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        I read somewhere that the entire state of Iowa is underlain by an “Iowa-shaped” layer of nitrated near-surface groundwater which is steadily sinking down and will eventually turn all groundwater in Iowa down to any conceivable depth into nitrate-water. Reading that made me give up any dream I might have ever had of retiring to Iowa for the soil to garden in.

  7. GymRatHippie

    Ask the Coast Guard… Most of the capped off wells in the gulf are abandoned and leaking and NO ONE is taking responsibility for them. There’s an area of Houston Tx with a 40%+ cancer rate for residents. The mouth of the Mississippi River where the petrochemical plants get washed out regularly by hurricanes (along with the large number of nuclear power plants along the gulf where the spent fuel rods are stored in little more than tin sheds over swimming pools that empty their radioactive water into the atmosphere as aerosol mist in those hurricanes). The whole Gulf crescent hundreds of miles inland is a petrochemical/nuclear biohazard area and I WOULD NOT eat any seafood or soil grown food originating there. The whole southern tier of the US will eventually be evacuated and the people forced to move north.

  8. anonymous

    Mike Naig got huge funding for his campaign for sec’y of agriculture from Big Ag corporations through the Farm Bureau to make sure that Iowa’s nutrient reduction was voluntary and nothing would be done to interfere with their profits. I’m in a rush, but Bleeding Heartland and Chris Jones (University of Iowa professor) should have more on Naig and Iowa water, respectively, and Austin Frerick has written extensively about the Farm Bureau, if you’re interested.

    1. Bruce F

      I follow Chris Jones on Twitter as well as his blog, here.

      I’d second the recommendation to check him out. He comes down very hard on the promoters of the “voluntary compliance” approach, pointing out that it hasn’t worked, and, given its contradictions, can’t work. I like that he names names, and backs up his work with a lot of academic research/statistics.

  9. Tomonthebeach

    There are places in the USA where nitrogen & phosphorous fertilizers have been all but banned. Here in Brevard County FL, our intercoastal rivers are dying from runoff. There are days when driving over the causeway to the mainland, you have to volunteer to passengers from out of town that nobody in the car farted. The butt-gas smell is from the river below.

    Several years ago, based upon University of Florida research, the county banned use of the stuff during our 6-month rainy season. There are less-polluting alternatives and our fertilizer services easily switched. Since there are alternatives, few services bother to switch back to nitrogen-phos chemicals in winter.

    The reasoning is this. Homeowners who live on the beaches technically live on a big sand bar that runs the length of the state on the Atlantic side. Thus, whatever you put on your lawn today will seep into the sand and aquifers below or run off into the rivers (rainfall intensity depending). Of course, we have no influence on upstream counties, but at least we sleep better at night.

  10. Jeremy Grimm

    Adam Tooze wrote an essay [almost as long or longer than the post — ugh] that includes some links to other information about ocean dead zones:
    “Notes on the Global Condition: Of Landscapes of Feed and Oceanic Dead Zones” – ADAM TOOZE 2018

    The concluding section of this essay was scary. Here are two tastes from the tail of Adam Tooze’s essay:
    “The processes unleashed are massive and immediate and happening on a time scale not of millions of years, or millennia, but on the scale on which we normally think about business-cycles, or Schumpeterian growth spurts. With only a bit of time lapse we can watch them unfolding as if on film.”

    “As another jaw-dropping report recently pointed out, we are now entering a phase when the number of people entering middle class affluence globally will hover around 160 million, per annum. The impact of their demand on the world food supply chain will be more spectacular than anything we have seen to date.

    We ain’t seen nothing yet.”

  11. William Hunter Duncan

    Well, if only the small farms will cooperate, break up the biggest players and divide it up in small farms for people who get it but are otherwise kept out by corporate and private equity favoritism.

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