Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force 2017 Report to Congress
The states and federal agencies that comprise the Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force (Hypoxia Task Force or HTF) continue to work collaboratively to implement the Gulf Hypoxia Action Plan 2008 (2008 Action Plan). Since the release of the plan, each HTF state has developed a nutrient reduction strategy through stakeholder participation that serves as a road map for implementing nutrient reductions in that state; these strategies serve as the cornerstone for reaching the HTF’s goals. The federal members of the HTF issued an updated unified federal strategy in December 2016 to guide assistance to states and continued scientific support (Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force 2016a). In furtherance of its goals, the HTF is also expanding partnerships with organizations with the same or similar goals. In May 2014, the HTF entered into an agreement with 12 land grant universities (LGUs) to reduce gaps in research and outreach/extension needs in the Mississippi/Atchafalaya River Basin (MARB). In February 2016, the HTF released its first Report on Point Source Progress in Hypoxia Task Force States (Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force 2016b). This report documents the nitrogen and phosphorus monitoring data and discharge limits for major sewage treatment plants within the 12 HTF states. The Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act of 2014 (HABHRCA) directs the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator, through the HTF, to submit a progress report biennially to the appropriate congressional committees and the President. In 2015 EPA submitted the Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force: 2015 Report to Congress; this report is the second biennial report to Congress (Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force 2015). This 2017 report highlights specific examples of progress achieved by the HTF and its members. The report also discusses strategies for meeting the HTF’s goals, as well as key lessons the HTF has learned, including the importance of: planning and targeting at a watershed scale; identifying the critical pollutants, their sources, and means of transport; using appropriate models to plan and evaluate implementation; using appropriate monitoring designs to evaluate conservation outcomes; understanding farmers’ attitudes toward conservation practices and working with them through appropriate messengers to offer financial and technical assistance; and sustaining engagement with the agricultural community following adoption of conservation systems. As new research and information have become available and systems of conservation practices are implemented on vulnerable lands across this large basin, the HTF has gained a better understanding of the complexities of hypoxia in the Gulf and the efforts and time that will be needed to achieve its goals. In February 2015, the HTF announced that it would retain its goal of reducing the areal extent of the Gulf of Mexico hypoxic zone to less than 5,000 km2 by the year 2035. The HTF agreed on an interim target of a 20 percent nutrient load reduction by the year 2025 as a milestone toward achieving the final goal in 2035. The HTF also agreed to adopt quantitative measures to track progress in reducing point and nonpoint source inputs. To accelerate the reduction of nutrient pollution, the HTF will: • Target vulnerable lands and quantify nutrient load reductions achieved through federal programs, subject to future appropriations. 2 • Implement state nutrient reduction strategies, including targeting vulnerable lands and quantifying nutrient reductions. • Expand and build new partnerships and alliances with universities, the agricultural community, cities, and others. • Track progress towards the interim target and long-term goal, with intent to understand whether the current actions are appropriate to meet the goal. The Hypoxia Task Force looks forward to continuing to use its biennial reports to Congress to report on progress toward reducing nutrient loads to the northern Gulf of Mexico, summarize lessons learned in implementing nutrient reduction strategies, and describe any adjustments to its strategies for reducing Gulf hypoxia.
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