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EPA water task force to work with UW-Madison (UPDATE)

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A task force established by the Environmental Protection Agency to curtail farmland pollution that flows into the Mississippi River said Wednesday it has reached an agreement to work with 12 universities, including the University of Wisconsin-Madison, on the problem.

The Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Task Force will work with the University of Wisconsin, Purdue University in Indiana, University of Illinois, University of Arkansas, University of Kentucky, Mississippi State University and Ohio State University. Others include University of Tennessee, University of Missouri, University of Minnesota, Iowa State University and Louisiana State University.

States already collaborate with their local universities on local water quality research and agricultural programs, but there hasn’t been a formal process for sharing research and ideas across the 12 states in the task force, the EPA said in a statement.

This agreement “will encourage university research into nutrient reduction strategies, will help communicate water quality messages and will encourage more involvement in voluntary science-based nutrient reduction efforts,” said Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, a co-chairman of the task force.

The task force is a partnership of five federal agencies, tribes, and environmental quality, agricultural, and conservation agencies from 12 states from which water flows into the Mississippi River. It’s working to address nutrient pollution and the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, an area the size of Connecticut that’s largely devoid of marine life. High levels of nitrates and phosphorous, largely the result of runoff of fertilizer and livestock manure applied to farmland, lead to excessive plant and algae growth that depletes oxygen to a level inadequate to support aquatic life.

In 2008, the task force set a goal of reducing the dead zone to less than 2,000 square miles — still larger than Rhode Island — by 2015. The EPA said the agreement announced Wednesday brings additional expertise to develop farm runoff reduction strategies.

The agency said nutrient pollution is one of America’s most widespread, costly and challenging environmental problems. More than 100,000 miles of rivers and streams, close to 2.5 million acres of lakes, reservoirs and ponds, and more than 800 square miles of bays and estuaries in the United States have poor water quality because of nutrient pollution, according to the EPA.

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