our shameful waters

This year’s hypoxic zone, er, dead water, is nearly the size of the state of Massachusetts. The second largest hypoxic zone worldwide is the Gulf of Mexico adjacent to the Mississippi River. Delivering water that can no longer support life, the Big Muddy has become the Big Dead.

The oil spill rightly gets the headlines, but corn is every bit as harmful to the gulf – 120,000 tons of fertilizers washing off Midwestern farm fields last year alone. Oil consuming bacteria will add to the shame by consuming Gulf oxygen as well.

America’s environment is industry.

A. There’s hardly a family in the Gulf region that does not have a member involved in the oil industry. My father was a tugboat captain who handled barges of crude oil for the sprawling refineries, my brother sells oilfield equipment and technology, my nephew captains offshore supply vessels, my great-nephew operates a giant crane currently picking Katrina-smashed equipment from the Gulf floor. Cousins manage oil leases.

B. There’s hardly a family in the Midwest that does not have a member involved in agriculture. My father managed sprawling farmland, my brother sells farm equipment and irrigation, my nephew brokers exports, my great-nephew operates a giant combine harvesting corn across Iowa and Nebraska. Cousins manage feed mills.

The USA has become a dead water drain. NOAA’s Hypoxia Research Team is here. National Geographic’s animated map of world rivers is worth a visit.

Focusing on a spill as large as a continent is astounding challenge. Mega-fixes and macro-engineering might restrain industrial impact if implemented across national scale. There’s 50 million educated unemployed in the OECD and we stimulate hi-ways and retail. Geesh.

Mississippi Drainage Basin