Gulf of Mexico “dead zone” still large and in charge

As happens every spring, billions of pounds of nitrogen and phosphorus from agricultural fertilizer have made their way down the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico, invigorating massive algae blooms that suck up oxygen and create a massive “dead zone.” In 2001, a task force appointed by the U.S. EPA pledged to reduce the dead zone by about three-quarters, to 1,930 square miles, by 2015. But somehow, despite uncoordinated, voluntary programs and more study — an EPA panel recently declared a “strong conclusion” that, uh, nitrogen and phosphorus are suffocating the gulf — experts predict that the zone may surpass a record 8,000 square miles this year. The zone’s gettin’ no love from the ethanol boom, which is contributing to the 90.5 million acres of corn to be planted in the U.S. this year — 12.1 million acres more than last year. But hey, 3.7 million acres of farmland were turned into wetland from 2000 to 2006! So, uh … nope, that’s not really all that encouraging.