Five bold ways to revive the Dead Zone and rebuild soils
The Mississippi River Basin, one of the largest watersheds in the world, supports food production, transportation and flood regulation across 40 percent of U.S. land area, and provides water to 18 million people in 50 cities. Yet these benefits come at a high price: Conversion of land for agriculture and straightening of the river for transportation, among other management practices, have contributed to massive soil loss, reduction of soil carbon and high levels of nutrient pollution that empties into the Gulf of Mexico, creating the infamous Dead Zone, now the size of Rhode Island and Connecticut combined.
Pressing concerns such as these are not new, and neither is the research into solutions and ideas for funding them. What is new is a method for quickly putting recommended solutions in front of policy makers to influence their adoption and implementation. The University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment and The Nature Conservancy have teamed up to solve such “wicked” problems in one-time workshops that bring together experts in economics, finance, policy and conservation, collectively called Wicked Econ Fests.
The first report from these gatherings, published in April, presents five bold ways to revive the Dead Zone and rebuild soils. They are:
- Couple crop insurance premium subsidies with adoption of beneficial practices for nutrient, water and soil outcomes.
- Enable private service providers to drive targeted adoption of beneficial practices.
- Expand and target Farm Bill funding of beneficial practices in high impact areas for reductions in nitrogen loss and soil carbon improvement.
- Drive ballot initiatives or legislative actions to develop new state funds that support adoption of beneficial practices in high impact areas for reductions in nitrogen loss and soil carbon improvement.
- Direct post-disaster federal funds toward restoration in high impact areas for reduction in nitrogen and flood risk, and soil carbon improvement.
Taken together, these finance mechanisms could surpass the 2025 interim nutrient reduction goal for managing the Dead Zone, set in 2015 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and contribute meaningfully to the rebuilding of soils and greenhouse gas reductions.
For more information, read the full report.
Photo by Redrockschool (iStock)