Edouard Come to Texas

August 5th, 2008

As I type, tropical storm Edouard is making its way inland near Houston. The thoughts and prayers of everyone at the Texas League of Conservation Voters are with those who are in the storm’s path, and they have our hopes for minimal damage and loss.
It is hard to look at the up-side of disasterous storms, but today’s Houston Chronicle describes the benefit the strom is bringing to threatened Gulf Coast waters:

As Tropical Storm Eduard moves toward the Upper Texas coast, it is providing a little-noticed service. In churning the normally languid summertime coastal waters, it is curbing the spread of an 8,000-square-mile dead zone.

The zone, first detected in the 1970s, is created when the outflow of the Mississippi River dumps nitrogen and phosphates from crop fertilizer runoff and human effluent into the Gulf of Mexico, sparking intense blooms of algae. As the algae decompose and sink into the depths, oxygen is absorbed from the water, creating an environment where fish, crabs and shrimp cannot survive. The phenomenon known as hypoxia typically occurs during the summer months, and dissipates with the arrival of cooler weather. This year’s dead zone is tied for the second-largest on record, topped only by an 8,500-square-mile monster in 2002.

The dead zone’s growth this year was also hampered by last month’s Hurricane Dolly. Gulf waters get stirred up by the raging storms, mixing needed oxygen into the dead zone and preventing, or slowing, its growth.
How do you kill the dead zone altogether? There seem to be two choices: (1) wait for more hurricanes (not an attractive solution any way you look at it), or (2) Stop dumping sewage and fertilizer runoff in America’s rivers. There’s a bill in Congress to begin doing just that, authored by Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), who voted with the national League of Conservation Voters 80% of the time during the 1st session of the 110th Congress, and Senator Bill Nelson (D-Florida, who scored 100% with the LCV during the 110th Congress.
Our Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison voted with the national League 7% of the time during the same period, doing much better than Senator John Cornyn, who scored 0%. I’m certain they’re not in favor of more hurricanes – they just must not understand how a growing dead zone in the Gulf threatens livelihoods up and down the Texas Gulf Coast. Right?