Missouri Nutrient Reduction Strategy

Nutrient Reduction: Background and Issues

Over the past 50 years, the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution entering the nation’s waters has increased dramatically and nutrients have become one of our costliest and most challenging environmental problems. Excessive nitrogen and phosphorus can have negative impacts on human health, aquatic ecosystems, the economy and the quality of people’s lives. Although virtually all people and industries contribute nutrients to our waters, there are many complex factors that increase the occurrence of eutrophication (i.e. excessive growth of aquatic plants due to nutrient enrichment) and hypoxia (i.e. low dissolved oxygen conditions that occur due to algae die-offs and decomposition, aquatic plant respiration). Some of these impacts can be attributed to increases in population growth and economic development which over time result in expanded energy use and increased nutrient loads in air emissions and wastewater discharges. In addition, land use changes, septic systems, intensified agriculture, and farm animal manure in rural areas have contributed to significant increases in nutrient loadings compared to historic levels, even though phosphorus fertilizer inputs have decreased since the 1970s and nitrogen loadings have decreased since the mid-1990s.

The Missouri Nutrient Reduction Strategy Committee was formed in 2011 to work with representatives from state agricultural, environmental, and natural resource agencies and organizations through an open, consensus-building process to develop recommendations for reducing nutrient loads to surface water and groundwater in Missouri. Development of a state-level nutrient reduction strategy is not federally mandated, but since 2008, it has been the top priority of the 12 states, including Missouri, which are members of the Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force (Hypoxia Task Force). The Hypoxia Task Force was formed in 1997 and consists of federal and state agencies and tribes. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources represents the State of Missouri on the task force and its coordinating committee. The role of the task force is to provide executive level direction and support for coordinating the actions of participating organizations in reducing nutrient loads within the Mississippi River/Atchafalaya Basin, also known as the MARB.

In 2008, after several years of reassessment and planning activities, the Hypoxia Task Force released the Gulf Hypoxia Action Plan 2008 for Reducing, Mitigating, and Controlling Hypoxia in the Northern Gulf of Mexico and Improving Water Quality in the Mississippi River Basin. The task force also publishes an Annual Report and an Annual Operating Plan that lists state and federal annual nutrient reduction accomplishments and planned nutrient reduction activities for the next year. The task force recognized the importance of developing state-level nutrient reduction recommendations by making it Action Item #1 in the Hypoxia Action Plan, which states, “Complete and implement comprehensive nitrogen and phosphorus recommendations for states within the Mississippi/Atchafalaya River Basin encompassing watersheds with significant contributions of nitrogen and phosphorus to the surface waters of the Mississippi/Atchafalaya River Basin and ultimately to the Gulf of Mexico.”

Recognizing the heterogeneity of soils, hydrology, land use and cropping practices, as well as legal, legislative and administrative framework variances across the MARB states, the task force acknowledged that no single approach to nutrient reduction would be effective in every state. However, use of a common approach among the MARB states in using similar critical elements and developing state nutrient reduction recommendations was encouraged to increase the likelihood of the states moving forward in reducing nutrient loads in state waters and attaining the coastal goal.


Missouri Department of Natural Resources
P.O. Box 176
Jefferson City, MO 65102