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The Environmental Protection Agency is asleep at the helm, says the National Research Council—at the expense of the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. The agency needs to take the leadership role it commands and implement the Clean Water Act immediately for water quality to return to "fishable and swimmable" status. In particular, the river needs to be evaluated as a single system. The 10 states along the corridor monitor their own water quality, but state efforts vary widely. EPA needs to coordinate them.
Many of the Mississippi's current problems stem from nonpoint pollution sources—nutrients and sediments entering the river through runoff. Nitrogen and phosphorous from fertilizers create water-quality problems in the river and an oxygen-deficient dead zone in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Sediments are too plentiful in the upper Mississippi, and too scarce in the lower river, robbing the coastal wetlands of southern Louisiana.
Written between the lines: EPA needs to actually do what its name mandates, protect the environment, not the destroyers of the environment.
Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, "The Fragile Edge," and other writings, here.