Floating islands could mimic the role wetlands once played and process the nutrients from crop fertilizer before they reach the river, reported the New York Times. Charles Theiling, a hydrologist specialist with the Army Corp of Engineers, has met with at least 500 farmers in the region who favor using the floating islands.
Crop fertilizer running into the Mississippi River has led to nitrogen and phosphate-rich water, which eventually reaches the Gulf of Mexico, creating creeping dead zones or hypoxic zones that kill off wide swaths of ocean life. Scientists from the National Centers for Coastal Science estimated last summer’s dead zone was as large as 6,213 square miles.
Shepherd, Montana-based company Floating Islands International has developed a floating island it calls BioHaven, designed to remove unwanted nitrogen and phosphates from field runoff, the Times reported.
BioHaven creates a “concentrated wetland effect,” in which the surface area attracts microbes that cleanse the water and turn unwanted nutrients into fish food, according to the company. The floating islands are used for cleaning rivers and streams, wastewater lagoons, farm effluent ponds and any other waterway impacted by sewage or landfill effluent, the company said.
Meanwhile, environmentalists are pressuring the federal government to adopt stricter standards to curtail the amount of pollution that ends up in the Mississippi River. Last year, the Gulf Restoration Network, the Natural Resources Defense Council and other groups filed two separate lawsuits to attempt to force the EPA to set base guidelines for state water quality standards and for wastewater treatment.
The Mississippi River is also suffering the effects of an extended drought, which has pushed water levels to record lows, threatening the shipping industry.