Case aimed at aimed shrinking Gulf Dead Zone back in District Court

posted on Thursday, April 9, 2015 in Water and Land News


Katy Heggen, Iowa Environmental Council
office: 515-244-1194x210,

Case aimed at shrinking the Gulf “Dead Zone” back in District Court

April 9, 2015 (DES MOINES) – a lawsuit that would require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to place limits on the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution entering the Mississippi River was sent back to District Court Tuesday following a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals.

For years, the EPA has failed to use its authority under the Clean Water Act to meaningfully address nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in the Mississippi River by setting nitrogen and phosphorus pollution limits.

“We don’t have to look any farther than our backyard to understand why federal action is needed,” said Water Program Director Susan Heathcote. “Despite USGS studies showing Iowa rivers and streams have some of the highest nitrate and phosphorus pollution levels in the nation, Iowa currently does not have any plan or schedule for the development of numeric water quality standards to limit these pollutants in our waterways. This inaction has resulted in high nitrate levels in the Raccoon and Des Moines rivers threatening the safety of drinking water in central Iowa, and high phosphorus levels in our state’s public lakes causing toxic algae blooms that make beaches unsafe for swimming.”   

Acknowledging the threat nitrogen and phosphorus pollution poses to the Mississippi River Basin and water quality across the country, the EPA has attempted to address the problem through task forces, by providing guidance to states, and “action plans” that have yet to significantly improve water quality. EPA has repeatedly cited its preference for these approaches over rulemaking, declining to indicate whether numeric standards were “necessary” to address the issue, its prerequisite for establishing such standards.

“We welcome the opportunity to again make the case that per the Clean Water Act, the EPA must publicly answer whether federal action is needed to address nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in the Mississippi River Basin and Gulf of Mexico,” Heathcote said.

The federal court ruled in favor of the Mississippi River Collaborative (MRC), which includes the Iowa Environmental Council, in Gulf Restoration Network et al v. Jackson and EPA in 2013 after EPA denied its petition calling upon the agency to act. EPA appealed the decision, and MRC filed a response to that appeal in 2014. A full case history with links to case documents is available on the Mississippi River Collaborative website and on the U.S. Court of Appeals website.


The Iowa Environmental Council is an alliance of diverse organizations and individuals working together to protect Iowa's natural environment. Since 1995, the Council has worked toward creating a safe, healthy environment and sustainable future for Iowa, focusing on water and land stewardship, clean energy and air quality.