A long-awaited White House plan to shrink the Gulf of Mexico's "dead zone" calls for major cuts in river-borne nutrients and more funds to create pollution-trapping wetlands and streamside buffers. But observers say the draft road map, released last week after 2 years of work by the Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force, still lacks some key details--such as a price tag.
The 18,000-square-kilometer dead zone appears each spring at the mouth of the Mississippi. Floods wash excess nitrogen into the gulf, triggering algae blooms and an ecological chain reaction that reduces oxygen levels and suffocates sea life (Science, 10 July 1998, p. 190 ). To reduce the nutrients, the panel calls for restoring 2 million hectares of wetlands and cutting fertilizer runoff by 20% by 2010 in the Mississippi Basin, which holds more than half of the nation's farmland. It also recommends more research.
Will Congress back the plan? "That depends on the price--and assurances that it won't harm the region's $100 billion farm economy," says a House aide. A final version is due later this year.