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Gerry Clinchy
07-30-2010, 07:39 AM
NY Times
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/30/us/30gulf.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&th&emc=th&adxnnlx=1280487640-A7fyUVPVu/2R5OarRyk7PQ

Oil spills are not the only thing that endangers the ecosystem of the Gulf. Agricultural run-off hundreds of miles away from the Gulf may be a more insidious threat.



Some of the alternatives to oil and gas could present their own problems to the gulf. While many farm groups, along with the Obama administration, are pushing for an expansion of ethanol-based fuels, such an expansion could mean more corn grown in the Midwest. That in turn could mean more nitrogen-rich fertilizer pouring into the gulf from the Mississippi River.

The nitrogen discharged into the Mississippi — 1.5 million tons of it yearly, from fertilizer, as well as urban runoff and sewage plants — creates a feeding frenzy among the phytoplankton when it enters the gulf. When the phytoplankton decompose, oxygen in the water is reduced so significantly that little life can exist.

That man-made area of dead water (http://disc.sci.gsfc.nasa.gov/oceancolor/additional/science-focus/ocean-color/science_focus.shtml/dead_zones.shtml), called a hypoxic zone, is second in size only to a similar zone in the Baltic Sea. And its source, for the most part, is in states hundreds of miles from the gulf.

“One of the problems with the gulf as an ecosystem is its insults come from so damn far away,” said Oliver Houck, a lawyer at the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic (http://www.tulane.edu/~telc/) in New Orleans.

The Clean Water Act has been effective at regulating “point source” pollution from specific factories and waste plants. But the act leaves much up to the states when it comes to regulating more diffuse sources of pollution, like runoff. And agricultural runoff is explicitly exempt from regulation under the act.


[An aside] About ethanol production ... recently mentioned to me was that bamboo could be an alternate source to corn for ethanol production. It can grow in soil that would not support corn; wouldn't need fertilization; and grows & spreads like a proverbial weed. In fact, when used in decorative landscaping, landscapers go to great lengths to keep it from spreading.

badbullgator
07-30-2010, 08:44 AM
There is still much debate about the ultimate effect of nitrogen on Gulf water quality. We deal with the same thing here with water (billions of gallons) being dumped from lake Okeechobee down our river and into the Gulf. Might be a problem and might not, depends on what you read. The dead zone is nothing new and is just being brought to light because of the oil leak, you know the investigative reports that need to break something.
As far as ethanol there are many things that can be used to make it. He have a company here that makes it from algae they grow in ponds. The problem that remains is that ethanol makes good drinking but is inefficient as a fuel.