New Orleans, La. – Dr. Nancy Rabalais is the executive director of the Louisiana University Marine Consortium. She's been studying the phenomenon known as dead zones of depleted oxygen in the Gulf. The hole blown in the levee near Wyatt, Missouri, means water will inundate farmland and avoid residential areas. But Rabalais says the water is flowing over farmland full of fertilizers containing nitrogen, which depletes oxygen levels, and will rejoin the river system and end up in the Gulf.
"To be effective, these wetlands or floodplains have to have standing water, and as I understand it, this water that's going in there right now is just rushing through. It's not standing around long enough. It's just going further downstream."
Fertilizers cause algae blooms, and bacteria that form to eat it use up oxygen. Microbes eating oil from the BP spill do the same. She warns that this year's dead zone could be the biggest yet.
"We've done some early estimates of the size based on the nitrate flux that we've already seen so far this year - both from January when the river was also high, and right now. And the estimate is really large. It's almost scary large."
Rabalais says research is under way to find methods of keeping agricultural water from the river, and planting crops that retain nitrogen.
For WWNO, I'm Eileen Fleming