Why Does Central Ohio Matter to the Gulf of Mexico?
The Upper Scioto River Watershed – Farming for Cleaner Water Project, or USRW, is an American Farmland Trust water quality initiative in central Ohio. Farmers rely on two major nutrients in fertilizer, nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) to grow crops. Once in the Gulf, these nutrients rob the water of oxygen, leading to a massive hypoxic zone (also referred to as a “dead zone”) where marine life struggles to survive. Over 70% of the nutrients causing the hypoxic dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico and impaired streams throughout the Mississippi River Basin stem from the unintended consequence of agricultural production.
Ohio has nearly 14 million acres in agriculture, representing about 53% of the state. Also, the Ohio/Tennessee sub-basin is the largest contributor of both N and P to the Mississippi River at 41% and 38%, respectively.
Why Does the Upper Scioto River Watershed Matter?
Central Ohio watersheds, including the Upper Scioto River Watershed, are prioritized in the Ohio Nutrient Reduction Strategy as they contribute significant loading from agriculture and are key levers to achieving Gulf hypoxia goals (Ohio EPA, 2013). These statistics illustrate that Central Ohio has a significant and disproportionate impact on Gulf water quality. Given the predominance of agriculture—in land use, economic importance, and political power—working with farmers and landowners is the only way to lower current nutrient inputs. To succeed, any solutions for clean water must also ensure thriving and viable farms.