Hypoxia Task Force Partners Highlight Progress in Improving Water Quality
WASHINGTON (October 1, 2020) — Today, as part of the virtual Fall 2020 Hypoxia Task Force meeting, federal and state Task Force members highlighted actions to reduce excess nutrients in the Mississippi/Atchafalaya River Basin. Federal partners—including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Department of the Interior’s U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)—discussed the benefits of new tools and novel approaches to improve surface water quality in the basin. Additionally, the 12 Task Force states shared success stories, lessons learned, and next steps in their efforts to reduce excess nutrients in surface water. Together, federal and state actions continue to support communities in the American heartland by improving water quality upstream while helping address the Gulf of Mexico hypoxic zone downstream.
During the Task Force meeting, EPA staff gave presentations on opportunities for the Task Force states to use traditional EPA funding, (e.g., Clean Water Act Section 319 grants and State Revolving Funds) to support market-based programs that help further reduce excess nutrients in surface water, including the use of 319 funds to purchase verified water quality credits. This new guidance from the Office of Water has the potential to expand participation in water quality markets and drive further surface water quality improvements in the basin. EPA Assistant Administrator David Ross sent the agency’s presentations to state and tribal environmental directors nationwide to ensure all interested states and tribes can benefit from these opportunities. EPA’s presentations are also available online at www.epa.gov/ms-htf.
“Working to reduce excess nutrients in a basin that touches 31 states requires collaboration, coordination and innovation,” said EPA Assistant Administrator for Water David Ross. “The Hypoxia Task Force meeting highlighted the potential for innovative approaches to accelerate progress on reducing excess nutrients in surface water and the benefit of collaborating with states—who know their waters best.”
Also as part of the Task Force meeting, USDA announced that it has named 379 priority watersheds to help agricultural producers improve surface water quality across the country. Producers in these targeted watersheds will receive focused financial and technical resources through USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) successful landscape-level water-quality efforts—the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative (MRBI) and National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI).
“We see a positive impact when we partner with producers to deliver conservation practices to critical watersheds,” said Farm Production and Conservation Under Secretary Bill Northey, who made the announcement at the Hypoxia Task Force meeting today. “These focused partnerships allow us to maximize the delivery of our conservation efforts and achieve greater improvements to water quality, which benefits the participating producers, the public and our nation’s natural resources.”
The USGS also provided an update on new tools that bring increased data and spatial resolution to efforts that reduce excess nutrients in surface water, including discussing its online SPARROW (SPAtially Referenced Regression On Watershed attributes) models and interactive mappers. This new tool estimates loads of nitrogen and phosphorus in streams throughout the Mississippi/Atchafalaya River Basin at a spatial resolution of about 2 square kilometers, which is much more precise than earlier models. USGS also highlighted a new website with data from the USGS National Water Quality Network that provides annually updated information on nutrients, sediment, pesticides and streamflow in the Nation’s rivers—including those in the Mississippi/ Atchafalaya River Basin. This new website will provide information on 110 stream and river sites with long-term, consistent data on water-quality.
“The coordination between state and federal partners through the Hypoxia Task Force is critical to finding innovative approaches and partnerships to reduce excess nutrients and ensure that the water quality in the Mississippi/Atchafalaya River Basin and the Gulf are improved,” said U.S. Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Timothy Petty. “When we better align and prioritize resources, we are more responsive to the needs of state and local decision makers—providing the data and information they need to make the best, sound science-based management decisions for their waters and communities.”
“The U.S. Geological Survey provides actionable science to support our state and federal partners in their efforts to better manage nutrients in the Nation’s rivers, aquifers, lakes, and coastal areas,” said U.S. Geological Survey Director Dr. Jim Reilly. “Models, tools and information we provide improve our understanding of the sources of nutrients, how quickly they are moving through the environment, and the potential consequences of their accumulation. This knowledge helps land- and resource-managers ensure an adequate water supply for America’s needs and maintain a healthy environment for fish and other aquatic life.”
“The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) contributes to this Task Force in two critical ways,” said RDML Tim Gallaudet, PhD, USN(ret), Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Deputy NOAA Administrator. “First, we are monitoring the spatial extent of the hypoxia zone in the Gulf of Mexico so we can determine the effectiveness of Task Force Efforts to reduce nutrient runoff. This is essential to ensuring the success of the May 2020 Executive Order on Seafood Competitiveness and Economic Growth. Second, we are increasing the accuracy of our precipitation forecasts and using that to help USDA improve runoff risk assessments. Both of these are applying cutting edge advances in artificial intelligence, autonomous systems, big data analytics and cloud computing to better support the states that are impacted.”
Finally, EPA announced that it is providing an additional $360 thousand to the HTF states to support the implementation of state plans to reduce excess nutrients in surface water—bringing the total amount announced over the last two years to $2.4 million. HTF states also highlighted their programs and successes in improving water quality. Several of these success stories are being highlighted through a new “story map” hosted by EPA. This new story map features a variety of successful projects and programs using a format that engages users to learn more about the efforts being taken to reduce excess nutrients in our surface waters. The support of the HTF federal agency members is reflected in many of these stories, which are organized into the following themes:
- Technology and Practices to Reduce Nutrient Pollution
- Strategies for Success
- Monitoring and Assessment
- Funding and Financing Projects
Supporting state-lead actions is a key component of EPA’s strategy for reducing excess nutrients in the nation’s surface waters through enhanced federal and state coordination, stakeholder engagement and promoting market-based and other collaborative approaches.
“States are leading efforts to implement water quality improvement practices that are tailored to their unique landscapes and challenges. Public and private partnerships are key to scaling up water quality improvement projects in priority watersheds across the Mississippi River Basin,” said Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig. “Continued financial and technical support from the EPA and USDA are critical to helping states achieve the goals outlined in our state-level Nutrient Reduction Strategies, and I’m proud of the progress we’re making.”
For more information on EPA’s efforts to support the Hypoxia Task Force, visit https://www.epa.gov/ms-htf.