Dead zone expected to last for decades

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The St. Lucie River in Stuart, Fla., shown here in July 2016, is undergoing it’s fourth toxic algae bloom since 2005 and third since 2013.

The St. Lucie River in Stuart, Fla., shown here in July 2016, is undergoing it’s fourth toxic algae bloom since 2005 and third since 2013.

A University of Iowa study shows that nitrogen pollution flowing out of the state contributed an additional 47 percent to Gulf of Mexico dead zones, spiking to 618 million pounds in 2016.

Chris Jones, a research engineer at the University of Iowa’s Institute of Hydraulic Research Hydroscience and Engineering Center, who authored the study, told the Des Moines Register that the state hasn’t made progress over the past 20 years in terms of nitrogen.

“Despite the investment of large amounts of money in recent years to improve water quality, the area of last year’s dead zone was 8,500 square miles," Kimberly Van Meter, lead author of a separate study and a postdoctoral fellow at Canada's University of Waterloo, told USA Today.

That study found that even if the runoff were completely eliminated, it would still take at least 30 years for the area to fully recover.

Scientists said that in order to come close to achieving a reduced target dead zone of 1,900 square miles by 2050, it would be necessary to bring nitrogen levels to zero — a scenario that the authors say is “not only considered unrealistic, but also inherently unsustainable.”

Though many of news reports cite the impact of the dead zones on the seafood industry, callers to WBUR’s On Point radio hour discussed the impact on recreational fishing and boating.

A caller from Sarasota, Fla., said the red tide there was so bad it deterred people from fishing and boating.

“What is the economic impact on fisheries in the Gulf?” asked host Harry Smith during the show.

Florida was hit particularly hard during the summer of 2016, as reported by Soundings Trade Only.

Operators at Central Marine and Outboards Only, both on the north side of the St. Lucie River, told Trade Only that 2016 was the worst year they’d ever seen. A thick mat of algae clogged engine intakes, and the smell sickened employees.

The National Marine Manufacturers Association launched a Boating United campaign last week, calling on industry stakeholders to tell lawmakers to authorize Everglades Reservoir restoration provisions in the Water Resources Development Act of 2018.

The project is intended to restore the flow of water from the north part of the state to Florida Bay through the Everglades, reducing the amount of water impounded in Lake Okeechobee and filtering out bloom-causing nutrients.

This fix has been idling along for nearly two decades — mostly for lack of money and political will to make it a priority — at the state and federal levels.

In June, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Water Resources Development Act, with favorable Everglades provisions and additional industry objectives. The full Senate is expected to vote on the bill in the coming weeks. The NMMA is urging members to take action