Joining the Force

MU to be involved with an EPA collaboration to alleviate hypoxic conditions of the Mississippi River watershed

Hypoxic zones of the Gulf of MexicoHypoxic zones of the Gulf of Mexico. Courtesy EPA.

Earlier in May, the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled the latest plans for the Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient (Hypoxia) Task Force. The task force will include a partnership with 12 land grant universities – including the University of Missouri – to “support state-level strategies and actions to curb water pollution.” MU researchers will be working side by side with other universities to generate data on issues of chemical transport in water bodies, soil conservation practices and water quality.

“More than 100,000 miles of rivers and streams; close to 2.5 million acres of lakes, reservoirs and ponds and more than 800 square miles of bays and estuaries in the United States have poor water quality because of nutrient pollution,” noted the EPA.

Until this point, there have been agreements between universities and state governments to conduct research on environmental concerns and the effects of agriculture programs, but now MU also will focus on inter-state collaboration to formulate solutions to the growing issues of hypoxia and pollution.

“MU has expertise in statewide soils, climates, people and solutions and is therefore a highly trusted source of objective research-based information,” said Jason Hubbart, associate professor of hydrology and director of the Center for Watershed Management and Water Quality, located in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. The center is committed to the development of sustainable solutions to contemporary watershed management through research, education and outreach. Hubbart serves as research representative, along with Extension Assistant Professor Bob Broz, and is also superintendent of Baskett Wildlife Research and Education Center near Columbia.

The University’s role in developing and implementing state-level nutrient reduction strategies depends on collaboration from other universities across Missouri. CAFNR scientists are already taking strides to provide quantitative research on variable rate fertilizer application, efficacy of reduction and livestock manure management. Hubbart is also leading projects within CAFNR to monitor nitrogen and phosphorus loading in Hinkson Creek, a local model providing critical insight to how nutrient loads respond to changes in climate and land use.

The mission of the Center for Watershed Management and Water Quality includes development of sustainable solutions to contemporary watershed management, water quantity and water quality problems to attain maximum benefit of Missouri’s waters and enhance the environmental, social and economic status of the State and populace.

MU also will implement public awareness strategies by providing education programs. Raising awareness of how runoff can affect hypoxia and disrupt ecosystems on a large scale may inspire more conservative pollutant use, thereby improving Missouri water, according to the EPA. Target audiences for education efforts will include farmers, local businesses and conservation and watershed management professionals.

How hypoxia affects ecosystemsHow hypoxia affects ecosystems. Courtesy EPA.