Improving Water Quality in the Mississippi River Basin
and Northern Gulf of Mexico: Strategies and Priorities
Committee on Clean Water Act Implementation Across the Mississippi River Basin
Water Science and Technology Board
Division on Earth and Life Studies
NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS 500 Fifth Street, N.W. Washington, DC 20001
NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance.
Support for this project was provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under Award No. EP-C-09-003. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the organizations or agencies that provided support for the project.
The views and conclusions contained in this document are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as necessarily representing the official policies, either expressed or implied of the U.S. Government.
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THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES
Advisers to the Nation on Science, Engineering, and Medicine
The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit, self-perpetuating society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. Upon the authority of the charter granted to it by the Congress in 1863, the Academy has a mandate that requires it to advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone is president of the National Academy of Sciences.
The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964, under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, as a parallel organization of outstanding engineers. It is autonomous in its administration and in the selection of its members, sharing with the National Academy of Sciences the responsibility for advising the federal government. The National Academy of Engineering also sponsors engineering programs aimed at meeting national needs, encourages education and research, and recognizes the superior achievement of engineers. Dr. Charles M. Vest is president of the National Academy of Engineering.
The Institute of Medicine was established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences to secure the services of eminent members of appropriate professions in the examination of policy matters pertaining to the health of the public. The Institute acts under the responsibility given to the National Academy of Sciences by its congressional charter to be an adviser to the federal government and, upon its own initiative, to identify issues of medical care, research, and education. Dr. Harvey V. Fineberg is president of the Institute of Medicine.
The National Research Council was organized by the National Academy of Sciences in 1916 to associate the broad community of science and technology with the Academy’s purposes of furthering knowledge and advising the federal government. Functioning in accordance with general policies determined by the Academy, the Council has become the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities. The Council is administered jointly by both Academies and the Institute of Medicine. Dr. Ralph, J. Cicerone and Dr. Charles M. Vest are chair and vice-chair, respectively, of the National Research Council.
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COMMITTEE ON CLEAN WATER ACT IMPLEMENTATION ACROSS THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER BASIN
David H. Moreau, Chairman, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Robin K. Craig, Florida State University, Tallahassee
Misganaw Demissie, Illinois State Water Survey, Champaign
Otto C. Doering III, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana
David A. Dzombak, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Paul L. Freedman, LimnoTech, Ann Arbor, Michigan
G. Tracy Mehan III, The Cadmus Group, Inc., Arlington, Virginia
Nancy N. Rabalais, Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, Chauvin
Thomas W. Simpson, Water Stewardship, Inc., Annapolis, Maryland
Roger Wolf, Iowa Soybean Association, Urbandale
Jeffrey Jacobs, Study Director
Ellen de Guzman, Research Associate
WATER SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY BOARD
DONALD I. SIEGEL, Chair, Syracuse University, New York
LISA M. ALVAREZ-COHEN, University of California, Berkeley
MARK M. BRINSON, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina
YU-PING CHIN, Ohio State University, Columbus
OTTO C. DOERING III, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana
GERALD E. GALLOWAY, University of Maryland, College Park
GEORGE R. HALLBERG, The Cadmus Group, Watertown, Massachusetts
KENNETH R. HERD, Southwest Florida Water Management District, Brooksville
GEORGE M. HORNBERGER, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee
MICHAEL J. MCGUIRE, Michael J. McGuire, Inc., Santa Monica, California
DAVID H. MOREAU, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
DENNIS D. MURPHY, University of Nevada, Reno
MARYLYNN V. YATES, University of California, Riverside
STEPHEN D. PARKER, Director
JEFFREY JACOBS, Scholar
LAURA J. EHLERS, Senior Staff Officer
STEPHANIE E. JOHNSON, Senior Staff Officer
LAURA J. HELSABECK, Staff Officer
M. JEANNE AQUILINO, Financial and Administrative Associate
ELLEN A. DE GUZMAN, Senior Program Associate
ANITA A. HALL, Senior Program Associate
MICHAEL STOEVER, Research Associate
SARAH BRENNAN, Project Assistant
The collective nutrient pollution from thousands of farms, municipalities, industries, and other sources across the Mississippi River basin has significant environmental consequences in the northern Gulf of Mexico. The cumulative input from all sources of nutrients in the tributary states results in a total annual load to the Gulf of over one million metric tons of nitrogen, which has caused water quality degradation in an area of over 22,000 square kilometers. In addition to downstream impacts in the Gulf, local water quality impairments caused by high nitrogen levels pose increasing concerns for human health and for water treatment plants. For instance, in 1991 the City of Des Moines constructed a $4 million facility to remove excess nitrate levels from its drinking water supply.
As our study committee was finishing the final drafts of this report, national attention was riveted on the massive flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and speculations about the ultimate environmental and economic effects of this source. Although the full extent of the impacts is not yet known, televised images from the Gulf illustrated clearly the extensive damage to fish, wildlife, and white sand beaches.
It is clear that the nation was not well-prepared to handle the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf. It also is clear from this report, and preceding National Research Council reports on Mississippi River basin water quality, that the nation’s current approach for controlling the flow of nutrients into the Gulf similarly is inadequate to the task. Authorities given in the Clean Water Act simply are not well suited to address the interstate nature of nutrient loads from agriculture and other nonpoint sources. Although there is authority in the Act to address nonpoint source water pollution problems, this authority is ambiguous, especially when compared to authorities for addressing point source pollution.
This committee was appointed by the National Research Council to advise the United States Environmental Protection Agency on strategic priorities for implementing the Clean Water Act, including steps to make further progress toward reducing high flows of nutrients into the northern Gulf. In noting the limited regulatory authorities for addressing nonpoint source pollution under the Clean Water Act, there may be an initial tendency to call for legislative changes and stronger regulatory authorities. Although such changes ultimately may be necessary, several alternative measures to regulation have been recommended and implemented across the Mississippi River basin. This report encourages the EPA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to build upon ongoing nutrient control efforts, especially in the areas of monitoring, evaluation, and planning. It also notes the importance of collaboration with and leadership from several other groups.
Thanks are in order to several parties for their contributions to our deliberations and the preparation of this report. I thank the volunteer members of our committee for their willingness to give their time to prepare for and participate in discussions, and prepare and review written material. The tone of our discussions has been frank, collegial, and enjoyable. I appreciate very much the civility of those discussions.
Special thanks go to the staff of the NRC Water Science and Technology Board, first and foremost to our study director, Jeff Jacobs. Jeff assisted us in many ways in the conduct of our meetings, identifying and inviting our guest speakers, and pulling together drafts of written
materials submitted by committee members. He has served as advisor, editor, and critic, all in a highly professional and courteous manner. Ellen De Guzman from the WSTB provided much assistance to the committee, working with Jeff on editorial and publication matters, keeping us informed of travel arrangements, arranging conference and dining facilities, and quickly processing expense reports.
I also thank the many guest speakers from federal agencies, state agencies, and other groups that took the time to prepare high-quality presentations and openly share their advice and opinions with our committee members. These experts have unique knowledge and experiences about Mississippi River basin water quality monitoring, science, and administration, and their input into our process was invaluable. Our committee asked them numerous tough and probing questions, and our speakers participated with constructive advice and good humor. Our committee members and I appreciated and benefitted from our exchanges with all of them.
This report was reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise in accordance with the procedures approved by the NRC’s Report Review Committee. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the NRC in making its published report as sound as possible, and to ensure that the report meets NRC institutional standards for objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process.
We thank the following for their review of this report: Norman Fausey, Ohio State University; Jeff Featherstone, Temple University; Matthew J. Helmers, Iowa State University; Catherine L. Kling, Iowa State University; William V. Luneburg, Jr., University of Pittsburgh; Kenneth W. Potter, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Donald Scavia, University of Michigan; Edward Thackston, Vanderbilt University; and Alan H. Vicory, Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission.
Although these reviewers provided constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the report’s conclusions and recommendations, nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release. The review of this report was overseen by Patrick Brezonik, University of Minnesota, who was appointed by the NRC Division on Earth and Life Studies. Dr. Brezonik was responsible for ensuring that an independent examination of this report was conducted in accordance with NRC institutional procedures and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for this report’s final contents rests entirely with the authoring committee and the NRC.
David H. Moreau, Chairman
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