Chemical runoff from farms along the Mississippi create “dead zones” each year in the Gulf of Mexico—areas where nitrogen, phosphorus, and animal manure settle, feeding the algae that steals the oxygen from all other living things. This year’s record flooding will likely lead to the biggest dead zone ever, the New York Times reports. The government has pinpointed nine states as the major source of the problem, and environmental advocates have long called for regulation. But despite federal pressure, the states have done little, much to the chagrin of their neighbors downstream.
Thus far, only Illinois and Indiana have acted, but their regulations only extend to lakes, not rivers or streams. “It is extremely frustrating not seeing EPA take more direct action,” says a Gulf advocate. “We have tried solely voluntary mechanisms to reduce this pollution for a decade and have only seen the dead zone get bigger.” The EPA has, however, set limits on pollutants around another location: the Chesapeake Bay. The move worries farmers, who say they depend on fertilizers to vastly increase their corn yields, for example. “For farmers, the consequences of applying too little is much riskier than putting too much on,” says an expert. (Read more dead zone stories.)