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Just off the coast of Louisiana, where the Mississippi River lets out into the Gulf of Mexico, an enormous algae bloom, fueled by fertilizer from Midwestern farm fields and urban sewage, creates an area so devoid of oxygen it's uninhabitable to most marine life every summer.
Nutrients like nitrogen from fertilizer and phosphorus from sewage act as a catalyst for algae growth. While algae are the base of the food chain for some fish, when these green plumes proliferate beyond what fish are capable of eating, their decomposition consumes much of the oxygen in the water.
Year - Rains - Midwest - Farm - Fields
This year, historic rains and flooding in the Midwest have roiled farm fields and overwhelmed sewer systems, flushing a tremendous amount of nutrients into the Mississippi River and into the Gulf, spurring a remarkable amount of algae. While the agricultural runoff from farms—exempted under the Clean Water Act—is the main driver of the Gulf dead zone, Chicago's sewage is the largest single source of phosphorus pollution.
The Stickney Water Reclamation Plant, which handles the waste of 2.3 million people in Chicago and the Cook County suburbs, is the biggest single source in the entire region and drains into the Mississippi River. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, agricultural sources in the watersheds of the Mississippi River basin contribute more than 70% of the nitrogen and phosphorus, versus about 9% to 12% from urban sources.
Illinois - Impact - Something - Miles - Josh
"It's amazing how big the Illinois impact is on something that's 1,100 miles away," said Josh Mogerman of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a nonprofit with offices in Chicago.
"I think there's less focus on it in Chicago because the (sewage) water is going the other way. We don't interact with the water that we're shooting toward St. Louis and the Gulf of Mexico. If we're not bathing in it, we're not going to the...
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