Naig: ‘There’s More Conservation Work to Do But We’re on the Right Track’

Secretary Naig responds to NOAA’s annual Gulf of Mexico hypoxia zone survey

DES MOINES, Iowa (Aug. 4, 2020) – Today, Mike Naig, Iowa’s Secretary of Agriculture and co-chair of the Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia Task Force, issued a statement in response to NOAA’s annual Gulf of Mexico hypoxia zone survey. This year, NOAA-supported scientists measured the hypoxia zone to be 2,116 square miles. This is the third-smallest measurement since NOAA began surveying the region in 1985.

Secretary Naig’s prepared remarks follow:

“NOAA’s annual hypoxia zone measurement is just one indicator used to gauge our efforts to improve water quality throughout the Mississippi River basin. As co-chair of the Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia Task Force, I know that leaders from 12 states bordering the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers are working alongside five federal agencies, including the EPA and USDA, and the National Tribal Water Council to help improve water quality locally and downstream. Hypoxia zones are not unique to the Mississippi River — a 2008 study showed this is one of 400 hypoxia zones in coastal areas all over the world.

One thing this annual measurement shows is that there is significant variability in the size each year. For example, the Gulf of Mexico hypoxia zone was the largest in 2017, measuring 8,776 square miles. Just one year later, it was 2,720 square miles — the fourth-smallest since 1985.

There are a number of things that influence the size of the hypoxia zone and weather is the most influential. For example, not enough water, too much water and the weather affecting the Gulf, including hurricanes, can affect the size of the hypoxia zone.

While the size of the zone fluctuates each year, it remains one important way to measure success in the region. The Task Force is committed to showing continuous improvement. We must find the right balance between improving water quality while maintaining productive food and transportation systems, and empowering people to enjoy economic prosperity up and downstream.

Each state in the Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia Task Force has committed funding, research and resources to implement nutrient-reduction strategies that fit their local landscapes and address their local needs. And of course we can all recognize that effectively managing storm and waste water and adding conservation practices upstream will have positive impacts on our local streams and the size, severity and duration of the hypoxia Zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

This process takes time as we’re talking about making changes on a subcontinental level, but I am confident that we are on the right track. In Iowa, we’ve decreased total point and non-point source phosphorus by 18.5 percent, after decades of work, thanks to the widespread adoption of soil management practices like no-till farming, and better storm and waste water management practices. Now we’re accelerating the adoption of cover crops and edge-of-field practices to further reduce nutrient losses, particularly on the nitrogen side. We know there’s still work to do but we are deploying proven, science-based strategies, and have more funding, private partners, and farmers engaged in our conservation efforts than ever before.

Each state has similar success stories to share and I can’t possibly do them justice. If you’d like to learn more about the conservation work happening all over the Mississippi River basin, I encourage you to reach out to my peers on the Hypoxia Task Force. We’re all working hard, and working together, to install more conservation practices on our local landscapes to improve and protect our natural resources — and yours.”

To learn more about the Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia Task Force’s conservation efforts, visit epa.gov/ms-htf.

About the Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia Task Force

The Hypoxia Task Force (HTF) is a partnership between 12 states bordering the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, five federal agencies, including the EPA and USDA, and the National Tribal Water Council. These stakeholders are working collaboratively to reduce point and non-point source nutrient pollution in the Mississippi/Atchafalaya River Basin (MARB) and the extent of the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico at the mouth of the Mississippi River.

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About the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship

Led by Secretary Mike Naig, the Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship serves the rural and urban residents that call Iowa home. Through its 14 diverse bureaus, the Department ensures animal health, food safety and consumer protection. It also promotes conservation efforts to preserve our land and enhance water quality for the next generation. Learn more at iowaagriculture.gov.

Media Contact:
Keely Coppess
Communications Director
(515) 326-1616           
Keely.Coppess@IowaAgriculture.gov