News and Activities

Workshop - Joining the National Discussion on Nutrient Problems

Date Posted: October 6, 2011

An oversupply of nutrients in our waters reduces the value of wetlands, rivers, streams, and lakes for fish and wildlife habitat, and outdoor recreation. Midwest managers and specialists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hosted a workshop to develop tools and actions to balance the use of wetlands and river backwaters for nutrient treatment and wildlife.

Nutrients from a variety of sources flow into natural wetlands and river backwaters. The nutrients promote the production of aquatic vegetation in wetland and aquatic ecosystems. An oversupply of nutrients cause an overabundance of vegetation and the ecosystem to function more like a treatment lagoon with less habitat available for fish and wildlife. The wetlands and backwaters treat the nutrients at higher rates when functioning like a treatment lagoon, resulting in decreased nutrient loads in downstream systems. However, the abundance of nutrients within a water body can result in undesired impacts such as, algae blooms, fish kills, and a lowered aesthetic value which are detrimental to the function of natural wetlands and for National Wildlife Refuge waters. A large-scale example of the impacts associated with these issues is the hypoxic or dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico which results from the nutrient loads that flow out from the Mississippi River. These problems have not diminished over the past couple of decades despite ongoing efforts to control nutrient discharges into our Nation's waters.

Image showing the dead zone at the mouth of the Mississippi River.
What is a dead zone? Learn about this phenomena with this short video from NOAA's Environmental Visualizations Laboratory.

Information and data generated from Water Resources Inventory and Assessments,(WRIA) as part of the National Wildlife Refuge System’s Inventory and Monitoring Program, and from the Contaminant Assessment Process (CAP) show that nutrients, along with accompanying problems like sedimentation, are adversely affecting a number of National Wildlife Refuges and Critical Habitat for endangered species throughout the Midwest. This sparked the need for the workshop. Insights and perspectives from staff of the National Wildlife Refuge System Program, Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, Endangered Species Program, and the Environmental Contaminants Program helped create a list of recommended tools and actions during the workshop by which the FWS might respond to nutrient problems. The top actions identified from the workshop included working more within partnerships especially through the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives, continued monitoring, and increased coordination under the Clean Water Act Memorandum of Agreement.

The focus on these issues is not just in the interest of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but the entire Nation. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is asking the States to join the Federal government in an urgent call for action. Please see the links below for more information about nutrients, the efforts of various Federal and State agencies, and Gulf Hypoxia.


Josh Eash (612)713-5404 for the WRIA

Michael Coffey (309)757-5800 x206 for the Illinois and Iowa CAPs


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Wildlife Refuge Association – Conserving the Future of the National Wildlife Refuge System

Clean Water Action - What can you do to reduce nutrients?

Environmental Protection Agency - Nutrients report

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency - Letter to the States

Last updated: June 12, 2015