The Dead Zone

Monday, September 21, 2009

Aberdeen American, Larry Gabriel

Published August 24, 2006

If you have not heard of it, you will. The mass media is blaming "agriculture" for a predicted increase in the size of the so-called "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientist Dave Whitehall recently issued a press release predicting that the anaerobic (oxygen depleted) area in the Gulf of Mexico known as "the dead zone" will grow by 40 percent this year due primarily to agricultural nutrient runoff into the Mississippi River.

Congress has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the theory that agricultural practices are primarily responsible for the dead zone. Congress apparently does not know that "agricultural nonpoint source" means everything except point sources, big city runoff and natural sources.

NOAA shut down testing the dead zone shortly after hurricane Katrina. The fishing in that zone boomed to abundance after the hurricane, indicating the anaerobic conditions lifted even though millions of tons of waste washed into the area from cities along the coast.

NOAA and EPA continue to blame "agriculture" and its use of fertilizer as the primary cause of the dead zone, but never point out that the lawns, football fields, baseball fields, soccer fields and golf courses of every town smaller than 50,000 people are deemed an "agricultural non-point source" of water pollution and fertilizer use for which "farmers" take the blame.

Why is that? Maybe it is because farmers are only a tiny percentage of the population and an easy political target, while sports fans, small towns and homeowners are not.

Here is a recent example of the results of the overbroad definition of agricultural sources: Subsidies wreak havoc on the ecosystem. One small example: There's a 6,000-square-mile dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, larger than Connecticut. It's so depleted of oxygen because of algae blooms caused by fertilizer runoff that shrimp and crabs at the Louisiana shore literally try to leap from the water to breathe. This is endangering the profitable Gulf fishing industry. Most of the fertilizer comes from a few Midwestern counties that receive billions in subsidies (more than $30 billion from 1997 to 2002, according to the Environmental Working Group), so says columnist Jonah Goldberg in the Los Angles Times newspaper on August 3, 2006, in an article entitle "Welfare Queens on Tractors."

This is portrayed as a national effort to save commercial fishing in the Gulf. A public radio story said, Agricultural runoff in the Mississippi River that flows into the Gulf of Mexico is suffocating sea life and threatening a once-thriving Louisiana industry...Spring runoff from the Mississippi is loaded with nitrogen-based fertilizers from farms. The fertilizer has the same effect in the Gulf as it does on the Midwest fields it came from. But instead of giving corn a growth spurt, the nitrogen fuels massive algae blooms that then die and suck all of the oxygen out of the water as they decompose.

How many millions of acres of heavily fertilized and irrigated lawn-type grass are in the "agricultural nonpoint source" in North America?

Maybe the real "dead zone" threat is simply an area where truth is not welcome.


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