Nutrient Pollution Reduction Excessive inputs of nitrogen and phosphorous can spur algae growth and create hypoxic and dead zones
Nutrient pollution is when an overabundance of nutrients, like nitrogen and phosphorous, enter the water system. These nutrients are natural, but in high quantities they can lead to an overgrowth of algae–known as “blooms”–and decrease oxygen that fish and other aquatic life need to survive.
The primary sources of excess nutrients are runoff from fertilizers and animal manure, discharges from domestic and municipal sewage systems, and stormwater runoff. Nutrient pollution is detrimental to human health and the economy, with U.S. tourism losing close to $1 billion each year from impacts to fishing and recreation. Excessive nitrogen is also a common drinking water contaminant and particularly harmful for infants.
Nutrient pollution threatens drinking water and the ecological stability of rivers and lakes through algal blooms and hypoxic zones.
Improving river health requires cross-state collaboration and a watershed approach to management of issues like water quality, infrastructure, and flooding.
Only 1.6% of rivers and streams in the 10 state Mississippi River corridor are tested for phosphorus, and 0.6% are tested for nitrates.
Economic activity connected to the Mississippi River generates $405 billion annually and supports 1.3 million jobs, all of which depend on a healthy river (USFWS).
NCEL has two regional efforts underway that incorporate nutrient pollution reduction. Click on the images to learn more.
State governments have proposed and implemented a number of successful strategies for healthy rivers. Many of the policies below were crafted with the involvement of the local agricultural communities, such as Farm Bureaus.
Nutrient monitoring, trading, and reduction legislation:
- Wisconsin Phosphorus Water Quality Standards and Arkansas HB 1067 (2015) provide authority for water quality trading programs
- Ohio Senate Bill 1 (2015) limits the application of fertilizer and manure in certain conditions.
- Minnesota SF 297 (2017) creates water testing for certain contaminants and establishes best practices.
Buffer zone legislation:
Science and Reports
NCEL Fact Sheet with key points and links to legislation.Download
This report zeros in on the Midwest and offers a first step toward defining the range of potential economic consequences to this particular region if we continue on our current greenhouse gas emissions pathway. Interactive graphics and detailed research is included by region.Read More
The Collaborative is a collection of environmental organizations and legal centers from states bordering the Mississippi River. Their website offers links to groups working on specific issues, as well as detailed issue pages that provide an overview of issues such as nutrient pollution and dead zones. The full website can be viewed here.Read More
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