Mississippi State University and 11 other land-grant universities recently joined a national effort to improve water quality in one of the nation's most significant watersheds.
The Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Task Force partnered with nongovernmental agencies for the first time when it invited university scientists and Extension specialists to share their research findings and ideas for reducing water pollution.
"Mississippi State University and the other land-grant universities can provide substantive capacity in addressing nutrient management and environmental quality," said Wes Burger, associate director of the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station and the Forest and Wildlife Research Center. "Through this new collaborative, the nutrient management practices and decision support tools developed through research conducted by our scientists will help to inform the recommendations of the Hypoxia Task Force."
"These practices and strategies can then be delivered through educational program by Extension Service specialists in support of state and regional nutrient-reduction goals," he said.
The task force was founded in 1997. It is a partnership of federal agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Native American tribes, and environmental quality, agricultural, and conservation agencies from the 12 basin states. Together, members of the task force work to address nutrient pollution and low oxygen levels, or aquatic hypoxia, in the Gulf of Mexico. Run-off from non-point sources, including agricultural land, is a primary contributor of excess nutrients that impair freshwater bodies and cause hypoxia in the northern Gulf of Mexico.
Each summer, a "dead zone" about the size of Massachusetts forms in the Gulf of Mexico, with oxygen levels so low the water cannot sustain most marine life. To reduce the size and severity of hypoxia in the northern Gulf of Mexico, the task force seeks to reduce nutrient inputs to the Gulf by 40 percent. Achieving this goal will require Mississippi River Basin-wide nutrient management.
MSU has existing research and outreach programs related to soil conservation and water quality, such as the Research and Education to Advance Conservation and Habitat (REACH) program. This program highlights the successful conservation practices agricultural producers have implemented around the state and connects producers with university experts who can help them preserve Mississippi's natural resources.
REACH is a collaboration of the MSU Extension Service, the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station and the Forest and Wildlife Research Center.
For more information, visit water.epa.gov