Hydrologic broken record

Here’s a broken record we hear every year:

Scientists are predicting yet again another record-setting “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico this summer.

The Mississippi has crested, now the problems move downstream.

How big you may ask?

They won’t know for sure until July, but last year, which was – you guessed it – also a record-setter, covered an area of around 8,000 square miles, a figure that media outlets touted as being “roughly the size of New Jersey.”

I found that comparison as alarming as I did bothersome.

The Gulf Stream waters should be getting cleaner – not worse, which first and foremost is my leading concern, but is it really necessary to drag New Jersey into the mess?

Jersey after all isn’t even a Gulf Coast state, nor is it even in the Mississippi watershed, but here’s the thing that shakes my hydrologic core:

It isn’t even a water body!

Another record-setting year is predicted for the gulf’s “dead zone.”

Lake Erie would be the shoe that “almost fits.”

At 9,940 square miles it is a tad bigger than the 2010 version of the low oxygen zone, but who knows – this year it may be a perfect instead.

The real culprit of course has nothing to do with New Jersey, or Mississippi for that matter (i.e., as in “the states”) … and not even with the river, but rather the watershed. It feeds the river (with high flows and nutrients), which spills into the gulf, which fuel the algal blooms, which steal away the oxygen. Throw in this year’s massive floods and super-sized agricultural runoff have spiked the broth.

This year Mississippi could top 90 Okeechobees for the third time in four years.

I say it’s time for the Gulf Coast to take the matter into our own hands.

The “dead zone” needs to be described relative to something on our own turf, such as our locally-available Okeechobee measuring cup. Last year’s hypoxic waters spanned an area 12 times the area of Lake Okeechobee.

How big is the Mississippi?

When the river crests above 1,000,000 cubic feet per second (as it did all of May and now into June,) it can fill up one entire Lake Okeechobee unit of volume from bottom to top in just 2.5 days. That’s one big river, but I was thinking of the watershed, which is where the problem lies:

Not New Jersey.

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