Arkansas Adds to Gulf Dead Zone

Excessive nutrients found primarily in animal waste, fertilizer and sewage treatment discharges are polluting Arkansas waters and contributing to an area in the Gulf of Mexico that is nearly devoid of sea life.

This ‘Dead Zone’ is now larger than the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. 

It hurts Arkansans as well. Water bodies with excessive nutrients can be toxic to fish, plants and wildlife and can harm drinking water supplies and close beaches.

“Beaver Lake provides drinking water for 420,000 people, and every fall the water smells and tastes odd thanks toalgae blooms from excess nutrients,” said Don Richardson of the Arkansas Environmental Defense Alliance. “This is just one example of a national problem, where unfortunately, Arkansas plays a big part.” 

Arkansas ranks among the highest contributors of nutrients to the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. The state adds about 7% of the total nitrogen and 10% of the total phosphorus to the Gulf of Mexico.

Statewide strategies and policies must protect water resources while not overburdening farmers or industry. We need fair policies and procedures that ensure local stakeholders and the public are aware, and involved when siting and managing facilities that could impact our water resources. 

“We must find a balance of supporting farmers while still protecting the precious clean water we all depend on,” Richardson said.

Right now, there are virtually no standards that the agriculture industry must meet to address these problems. Arkansas uses subjective standards to set thresholds for nitrogen and phosphorus in water bodies. These standards don’t easily translate into permit requirements.  

Nutrient management plans help landowners and operators achieve maximum soil fertility while protecting state waters. Currently such plans are required only in a handful of watersheds. 

The new Arkansas Water Plan recommends the state require nutrient management plans statewide for the application of poultry litter and animal manure. Legislation is being drafted to address the need for nutrient management plans statewide and will need support during the 2017 Legislative Session.