Narrator: Beneath these waters lie more than just vast amounts of sea life. Here, in the Gulf of Mexico, the economy depends on the health of its coastal natural resources. Fish and shrimp for example account for more than two-and-a-half billion dollars in seafood consumption. But trouble has been brewing. Fish are missing. Sea life is non-existent. They call it the dead zone.>>Hypoxia is a condition where the oxygen is so low in the water that you cause death to some sea life and other sea life flee the area. So they call hypoxic zones dead zones for that reason – they’re devoid of life.>>Here in the Gulf of Mexico, the dead zone stretches for miles. At its peak in the summer, it can reach the size of New Jersey. Hypoxic zones are spreading at an alarming rate. We have hypoxic zones in over fifty percent of our estuaries and in many lakes and freshwater systems so it’s a real serious problem.>>So what causes hypoxia? In the Gulf, the answer is strange but simple – there are too many nutrients in the water. To find the main source of these nutrients we had over a thousand miles upstream to the north where farming and agriculture are a way of life. farmers help their crops grow by spreading fertilizer and applying manure to their fields. However, these nutrients intended for crops can find their way into our streams and lakes. By applying nutrients right before runoff events – like a heavy rain or during snowmelt – they can end up where they were never intended.>>These nutrients are taken up by phytoplankton algae and the algae bloom and when the bloom ends there’s a lot of degradation decomposition that occurs. And bacteria work on that material. And it’s the bacteria that consume the oxygen and cause oxygen levels to fall below that would support life. To reduce nutrient runoff, a multi-agency effort brought together the National Weather Service, universities, and other state and federal agencies. Together, they developed a tool tailored to the needs of farmers and nutrient applicators. The Runoff Risk Advisory Forecast provides much more than just a weather outlook.>>It takes into consideration soil moisture modeling and so how wet the soil is going to be before that forecasted rainfall. It looks several days out so farmers are able to see if today is or isn’t a good day. If the next 2-3 up to five days will or won’t be better for them. And it also during the wintertime takes into consideration model is related to snow melt so understanding how snowmelt and that water movement affects manure runoff issues was extremely important to this team.>>If you can maximize the uptake of this fertilizer by plants, less will go into the river and that’s what we hope will happen. The next step – letting the farmers use the tool allows researchers to gather important feedback>>The Runoff Risk Advisory Forecast has really worked in Wisconsin to build awareness around the topic of when runoff might occur and how to best manage for those periods when runoff is likely.>>If there’s no risk, go do your business. Medium-risk – now you start evaluating “are there safer places to go? Can I avoid this timeframe altogether?” Of course if you can, then that’s the best option. Wait for better weather. But otherwise you start looking at other factors that can contribute to mitigating the risk that you might be exposed to.>>Agriculture is very very supportive. They have looked for something that is a tool that they can use and rely on and they’re looking for a way to be able to capture more nutrients and not have them running off not leaving the landscape.>>It’s been a system that has been accepted by the professional applicators. Farmers have looked at it, have used it, have liked the system and once it’s been explained to them and they understand it a little better they understand why the system is there and it provides them with some management options as they look at their day or their week planner.>>We talked to farmers about the fact that they can pair science that came right from farms with this tool that’s always accessible to them to make those really great decisions line up with really tough time periods.>>So it was very important for us as farmers to really understand how we’re impacting water quality and then to understand that the changes we’re going to make are valuable and actually doing something. We’re not just picking changes for the sake of picking changes. We’re doing the things that count.>>I believe it’ll retain more nutrients on the landscape. Have less nutrients in bodies of water where they’re not intended to be. It will protect our lakes. It’ll will protect our streams and rivers. And ultimately it’ll do a better job of protecting large bodies of water – the great lakes, Mississippi River watershed, or even the Gulf of Mexico. So this tool has a win-win for many aspects of the citizens of Wisconsin and others.>>The timely advice from runoff risk tools like Wisconsin’s Runoff Risk Advisory Forecast help communities make the right calls for their farms and our water resources. The team is now looking to expand the forecast tool and maximize its proven impact on water quality.>>I think the application of this forecast could go to other states and possibly nationwide to be able to help farmers across the country make better decisions about the way the weather and their field conditions impact the runoff risk on their farms. And the other thing that we are focusing on in Wisconsin and with our runoff risk advisory forecast is really bringing it down too much more localized scale so that the farmers that are using this and their advisers and manure haulers are able to understand and see this is really important for their farm and their area and bring it down to a more local focus for them. A recent partnership with the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is allowing the team to develop a finer scale second-generation runoff risk tool. This upgraded tool will be available to neighboring states in the Great Lakes region. It’s said even small changes can lead to big impacts. Runoff risk tools – when placed in the hands of those who need it – can help reverse the effects of algal blooms and hypoxia. Local efforts can make significant improvements to the health of the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico.