Annual Gulf Hypoxia Task Force meeting short on results

posted on Thursday, December 15, 2022 in Water and Land News

More than 20 years in and no measurable improvements

The Environmental Protection Association convened a public meeting for the Gulf Hypoxia Task Force on Wednesday, December 14, at the EPA offices in Washington D.C. Iowa is one of 12 states involved in the Gulf Hypoxia Task Force (GHTF), established in 1998 to address fertilizer (nitrogen and phosphorus) pollution that leads to a “Dead Zone” in the Gulf of Mexico.  

As part of the Council’s ongoing efforts to reduce fertilizer pollution in Iowa’s waterways, IEC participates in Gulf Hypoxia Task Force meetings whenever possible. Water Program Director Alicia Vasto submitted comments in advance of the recent meeting on several topics, including: 

  • Accountability for task force members. The GHTF should require states to develop benchmarks and timelines for progress on nutrient reduction, as well as reporting requirements. Iowa has not issued a progress report or updated monitoring data since 2019. 
  • Review state nutrient reduction strategies. Next year is the ten-year anniversary of the adoption of Iowa’s NRS. In a recent report, IEC called on the state agencies responsible for the implementation and review of the Iowa NRS to conduct a ten-year evaluation and update of the strategy. The GHTF should call for regular review of state strategies. 
  • Spend infrastructure dollars efficiently and effectively. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) has dedicated $60 million over the course of five years for the Gulf Hypoxia Program. The GHTF must ensure that those funds are spent on strategic and efficient projects to address nutrient pollution. With less than $1 million allotted to each state per year, this funding provides only a small fraction of the funding necessary to implement Iowa’s NRS, which is estimated to cost $77 million to $1.2 billion. Instead, the funding should support water quality monitoring and tracking of progress toward NRS goals. 
  • Make participation more accessible. The GHTF met in Washington, D.C. rather than in one of the twelve states involved in the Task Force. This decision limited public attendance and participation at the meeting. Iowans are suffering from the consequences of nutrient pollution in Iowa waterways, and the GHTF does not provide an adequate opportunity to hear Iowans' voices. Virtual attendance is an option. To be notified of meetings, the public can sign up online for GHTF e-newsletters and meeting notifications. 

GHTF meetings are an opportunity for states to share updates and information on NRS implementation and conservation programs. Similar to last year’s meeting, the Task Force chairs and members provided updates highlighting successes, including dollars spent and number of conservation practices implemented. Noticeably absent was any discussion of water quality data or measurable improvement. IEC continues to call for improved monitoring and water quality data reporting to assess progress on the state’s NRS.  

As new funding is distributed to states for Farm Bill conservation programs as proscribed in the Inflation Reduction Act, the GHTF has an opportunity to work with states to use those funds to address fertilizer pollution. States are anticipating strapped capacity to administer the new funding they will be responsible for. “Clearly, the task force should meet more than once a year and work proactively with states to help address those concerns,” said Vasto.  

May 2023 will mark the tenth anniversary of Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy. IEC will deliver reports, analysis, and more throughout the year as we continue to call for improvements to the strategy and measurable results for Iowa’s waterbodies.  

  1. clean water
  2. nitrate pollution
  3. nutrient reduction strategy
  4. water quality