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A better coordinated effort to protect Miss. River urged

Report bemoans government's limited attention

WASHINGTON - States and the federal government need to coordinate their efforts to monitor and protect the water of the Mississippi River, an analysis urges.

The study released yesterday by the National Research Council calls on the Environmental Protection Agency to coordinate the efforts affecting the river and the northern Gulf of Mexico, where its water is discharged.

"The limited attention being given to monitoring and managing the Mississippi's water quality does not match the river's significant economic, ecological, and cultural importance," said David A. Dzombak, professor of environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

Dzombak, who was chairman of the committee that prepared the report, said that "in addressing water-quality problems in the river, EPA and the states should draw upon the useful experience in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, where for decades the agency has been working together with states surrounding the bay to reduce nutrient pollution and improve water quality."

Benjamin H. Grumbles, EPA's assistant administrator for water, said: "EPA is committed to increasing efforts with all of our partners to improve the water quality and monitoring of the Mississippi River Basin. Cooperative conservation and improved monitoring can help us all achieve sustainable solutions that transcend political boundaries."

Michelle Perez, a senior analyst at Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit conservation organization, said the report should be a top consideration for Congress as it considers reauthorizing the farm bill and the Clean Water Act. "In order to reverse the environmental disaster of fertilizer runoff pollution in the Mississippi River Basin, conservation funding must be targeted to critical areas."

Because the river passes through or borders many states, the river's quality is not consistently monitored, the report said.

In the north, the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association has promoted many cooperative water-quality studies and other initiatives, the report said. That group includes Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin. But there is no similar organization for the lower-river states - Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana - and they should strive to create one, the report said.

EPA also should support better coordination among states and among its four regional offices along the river corridor, the report said. Greater effort is needed to ensure that the river is monitored and evaluated as a single system, said the report.

The 10 states along the river conduct their own programs to monitor water quality, but state resources vary widely and there is no single program that oversees the entire river.

The report said many of the river's pollution problems stem from nonpoint sources, such as nutrients and sediments that enter the river and its tributaries through runoff.

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