Expert Report

Each report is produced by a committee of experts selected by the Academy to address a particular statement of task and is subject to a rigorous, independent peer review; while the reports represent views of the committee, they also are endorsed by the Academy. Learn more on our expert consensus reports.

For more than two decades, a large area of oxygen-depleted water -- often referred to as a "dead zone" -- has appeared each year in the Gulf of Mexico. The dead zone is the result of algal growth fueled by excess nutrients, especially nitrogen and phosphorus, which flow into the Gulf from the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers from various sources -- including agriculture, municipal water treatment works, industries, and urban runoff. At the request of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Research Council convened a committee to examine this problem and help EPA better meet nutrient and sediment reduction objectives. The committee's report identifies means for allocating reductions of nutrient discharges into streams and lakes. It also recommends that EPA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture jointly establish a Mississippi River Basin Nutrient Control Implementation Initiative, and a Mississippi River Basin Water Quality Center, to learn more about the effectiveness of various efforts to improve water quality.

Key Messages

  • Current funding levels and programmatic arrangements, however, do not ensure a commitment to long-term monitoring of northern Gulf of Mexico water quality and the hypoxic zone.
  • Despite this large body of information and expertise, the water quality database across the Mississippi River basin is uneven and not well coordinated.