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In 1997, the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established the Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force (or Task Force). The Task Force brought together federal agencies, states and tribes to consider options for reducing, mitigating, and controlling hypoxia in the NGOM. The Task Force requested that the White House National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) conduct a scientific assessment of the causes and consequences of Gulf hypoxia. The NSTC Committee on Environment and Natural Resources (CENR) formed a federal intra-agency Hypoxia Working Group to plan and conduct the assessment. The need for the assessment was given additional impetus by passage of the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act of 1998. The Act specifically called for an integrated scientific assessment of causes and consequences of hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico and a plan of action to reduce, mitigate, and control hypoxia.
The scientific assessment was led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) with oversight among several federal agencies. As a first step, six reports (available at http.//www.nos.noaa.gov/products/pub_hypox.html) covering key topics were developed. These include characterization of hypoxia (Rabalais et al., 1999a); ecological and economic consequences of hypoxia (Diaz and Solow, 1999); flux and sources of nutrients in the Mississippi-Atchafalaya River basin (Goolsby et al., 1999); effects of reducing nutrient loads to surface waters within the Mississippi River basin and Gulf of Mexico (Brezonik et al., 1999); reducing nutrient fluxes, especially nitrate-nitrogen, to surface water, ground water, and the Gulf of Mexico (Mitsch et al., 1999); and evaluation of the economic costs and benefits of the methods for reducing nutrient fluxes to the Gulf of Mexico (Doering et al., 1999).
The six NOAA reports provided the scientific foundation for the Integrated Assessment of Hypoxia in the Northern Gulf of Mexico (CENR, 2000) (or Integrated Assessment, available at http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/products/pubs_hypox.html). The Integrated Assessment concluded that hypoxia in the northern Gulf was caused by excess nitrogen from the MARB, in combination with stratification of Gulf waters. Informed by the Integrated Assessment, in 2001 the Task Force completed its Action Plan for Reducing, Mitigating and Controlling Hypoxia in the Northern Gulf of Mexico (MR/GMWNTF, 2001) (or Action Plan, available at http://www.epa.gov/msbasin/taskforce/actionplan.htm). The Action Plan described three primary hypoxia management goals.
In 2005, the Task Force recognized a need to update the Integrated Assessment and Action Plan with more recent science. Accordingly, the Task Force sponsored four symposia on the upper Mississippi River basin; Gulf Hypoxia; the lower Mississippi River basin, and Nutrient Sources, Fate and Transport. Each of the symposia focused on scientific developments since 1999. In conjunction with the symposia, the Task Force also developed a bibliography of recent literature on hypoxia causes, effects, and control options since the year 2000 (available at http://www.epa.gov/msbasin/taskforce/reassess2005.htm). In addition to science activities, the Task Force also compiled information necessary for nutrient management and control in the MARB in two reports. The Management Action Review Team Report (MART, 2006a) summarized federal programs that encouraged watershed planning and land-use practices to reduce nutrient loadings. The Reassessment of Point Source Nutrient Mass Loadings to the Mississippi River Basin report (MART, 2006b) updated annual mass loading estimates for total nitrogen (TN), total phosphorus (TP), and biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) (Task Force documents are available at http://www.epa.gov/msbasin/taskforce/reassess2005.htm.) The Task Force is also working with the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Conservation Effects Assessment Program (CEAP) to encourage the quantification and documentation of environmental effects and benefits of conservation practices on agricultural lands to control nutrients in the MARB. CEAP documents are available at http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Technical/nri/ceap/.
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