COLLABORATION TO HELP SAVE STRUGGLING MISSISSIPPI WATERSHED
COLUMBUS, Ohio – A new partnership between Ohio State University and Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge aims to help researchers get to the root of what causes hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico.
Each spring, the rush of nitrogen and other chemicals that flow into the Mississippi River watershed ultimately turn more than 7,000 square miles of the Gulf of Mexico into a “dead zone,” a condition known as hypoxia. Creating wetlands in the Midwest would help decrease this runoff, said William Mitsch, director of the Olentangy River Wetland Park (http://swamp.osu.edu) and a professor of natural resources at Ohio State. Mitsch is leading Ohio State’s participation in the partnership.
The universities have received $150,000 from the state of Louisiana with support from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the yearlong initiative. The goal is to develop a comprehensive, cooperative research program for restoring wetlands and water quality in the Mississippi River basin – an area that encompasses 40 percent of the lower 48 states – as well as in the Louisiana delta.
“Together, north and south, we can tackle this problem,” Mitsch said of the new agreement. “Louisiana has a hypoxic dead zone that’s due to runoff from farms throughout the Mississippi watershed. A large restoration of wetland areas in the Midwest is the answer.”
The Mississippi River watershed stretches as far east as the Allegheny mountains and extends west to the Rocky Mountains. Mitsch and his colleagues are calling for the restoration and creation of 5 million acres of wetlands in the Midwest, along with 19 million acres of streamside forest area.
Together, that's at least enough created and restored wetland and forested area to fill all of Virginia.
“What takes place throughout the Mississippi watershed affects all of us,” said John Day, a distinguished professor of coastal ecology at Louisiana State University who is leading Louisiana State’s efforts in the collaboration. “We currently lack a comprehensive, integrated approach to solving the hypoxia problem. As a group, we plan to design solid scientific programs that explain how to restore wetlands and streamside forests, how to use wetlands to remove nutrients from water and how much area these wetlands need to cover.
“Instead of a piecemeal approach, we need to take a holistic view of the entire basin.”
The collaboration, formally called “Developing a Comprehensive Demonstration Program for Restoration of Wetlands and Water Quality in the Mississippi River Basin and Louisiana Delta,” runs through June 2004.