An EPA memo to regional administrators paints a startling picture of the nation’s water quality, calling for more cooperation among states and federal agencies in dealing with the root of the cause – nitrogen and phosphorus pollution.
“Nitrogen and phosphorus pollution has the potential to become one of the costliest and most challenging environmental issues we face,” writes Nancy K. Stoner, EPA Assistant Administrator, in the memo.
Along with population growth, the memo identifies urban stormwater runoff, municipal wastewater discharges, air deposition, row crop runoff and livestock activities – common practices in Iowa – as sources of the pollution.
Studies have linked nitrogen and phosphorus pollution to unsafe drinking water, increased algal blooms and poisoned marine life, posing major threats to fishing and coastal tourism industries – issues especially poignant in the Gulf Coast Region, the final destination of farm runoff from the Midwest, which travels down the Mississippi River.
The EPA memo provides grim examples of the nation’s deteriorating water quality:
- 50 percent of U.S. streams contain medium to high levels of nitrogen and phosporus.
- 78 percent of coastal waters measured show eutrophication – increased nutrients, which stimulate algae growth.
- Nitrate drinking water violations have doubled in the past eight years.
- Algae blooms and related toxins are steadily rising, with consequences to public health and the environment.
The EPA’s call for action comes as Iowa, where water quality is at its worst in recorded history, considers transferring responsibility for upkeep of the state’s waters to its Department of Agriculture and Land and Stewardship, which lists ”to provide leadership for all aspects of agriculture in Iowa,” as its primary goal.