The best way to fight disease is robust good health, and that applies to rivers and bays as well as people. Healthy rivers can shrug off nitrogen pollution, and avoid the dread of eutrophication and resulting dead zones.
Nitrogen runoff kills rivers and bays, creating dead zones by over-fertilizing and using up oxygen. But now there's a new option on the table for solving the problem, healthy rivers. A big new study says healthy rivers can suck up nitrogen and use it as fertilizer for healthy growth of plants and animals, instead of the unhealthy overgrowth of eutrophication. Go healthy rivers!!
This isn't to say that healthy rivers can use up any amount of nitrogen we throw at them. There are limits to how much nitrogen can be consumed even by healthy rivers. But this new finding is important because the value of healthy rivers is largely ignored in efforts to control eutrophication and eliminate dead zones. Instead, the dominant emphasis is on controlling nitrogen runoff, which is important but so far hasn't solved the problem.
Nitrogen waste from fertilizers and sewage is a big problem. The famous Gulf of Mexico dead zone comes from excess fertilizer runoff in the farm belt. The nitrogen fertilizes algae blooms and the algae rot and use up oxygen, killing oysters, fish and most underwater animals.
A gigantic study of rivers and streams from around the US has brought clear consensus on an urgent message: We need healthy stream ecosystems to clean up nitrogen waste.
Healthy stream and river ecosystems consume nitrogen and convert some to animal bodies, while some goes into the atmosphere in bacterial magic called denitrification.
It would be interesting to do a cost/benefit analysis, and I assume that'll be a next step for these scientists. How much does it cost to stop nitrogen runoff at the source, compared to maintaining healthy rivers and consuming the nitrogen in streams and rivers?