|This year's dead zone (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration graphic)|
Government agencies have promised to take action, and have encouraged Midwest farmers to limit fertilizer runoff by taking such measures as planting grassy strips along streams to use up the fertilizer. One Iowa farmer has been tinkering with crop rotation methods to reduce fertilizer use and waste. And scientists at the University of Illinois are tackling the problem with a filtration system made of woodchips. But former NOAA top scientist Don Scavia, who prompted the agency to start analyzing the dead zone in 1985, wrote in a blog post that voluntary measures will not be enough to improve the situation.
Scavia argues that the Gulf should receive the same kind of federal protection as the Chesapeake Bay. "In 2010, though, despite fierce objections from farmers, the federal government set mandatory limits on nutrient pollution entering the bay. State governments spent billions of dollars to meet those targets. Now pollution in the bay is down, and some wildlife in the Chesapeake is starting to recover," Charles reports.