Algae in Lake Erie
Many of us live along or have visited the shores of Lake Erie. Lake Erie is not just a state treasure but is also of international importance as the 11th largest lake in the world. The Great Lakes are the world’s largest freshwater eco-system and while Erie only has 2% of the water it contains 50% of all the fish in the Great Lakes.
Erie not only provides us with fish to eat and a place to recreate but also provides 11 million people with drinking water.
While Lake Erie is the most developed, dredged and populated of the Great Lakes water quality had improved steadily with the passing of the Clean Water Act in the 1970’s. Concern for the health of the Lake was reignited at the turn of the century as harmful algae blooms have increased due to more: Combined Animal Feeding Operation manure applications. Open lake disposal of sediments, field tiles, and lawns fertilized. Changing agricultural practices are also contributing to more nutrient runoff. Since 2003, the algal blooms have gotten bigger summer after summer with the most massive algal blooms ever in 2009. Algal blooms reduce aquatic production, increase water treatment costs, and increase the dead zones (oxygen depleted areas in Lake Erie). Ohio is not checking public beaches for algae and warning poster.
In 2007, Director Korlieski of the Ohio EPA convened the Ohio Lake Erie Phosphorous Task Force to examine sources of phosphorous and their potential to contribute to algae blooms. On May 6th 2010 the OEPA led team of federal, state and local officials along with farm interest groups, university researchers and fertilizer manufacturers released their final report.
Algae bloom in Lake Erie
The report list multiple sources of phosphorous as contributing to algae blooms, however the most significant is runoff from agricultural nutrient applications such as commercial fertilizers and livestock manure because these sources have high concentrations of soluble or dissolved phosphorous. It is not surprising that agriculture is the prime source for phosphorous loading because 60-80% of land use in Northwest Ohio, where the algae blooms are greatest, is agricultural. The Task Force Estimates that inorganic fertilizers contribute 66% and animal manure contributes 27% of agricultural fertilizers being applied in the Lake Erie watershed. The report did not address or assess nutrient loads from the Detroit River which supplies over 90% of the water to Lake Erie. Studies suggest that the Detroit River supplies a little less than half of the phosphorus to Lake Erie. Nor does the report address the Detroit Wastewater plant which is the largest wastewater plant in North America which had 30 billion gallons of sewage overflows going into Lake Erie in 2009.
While the report recommends some Ohio based common sense “best practices” to curtail nutrient runoff such as; not applying unnecessary amounts of fertilizers, applying fertilizers when crops are growing, not to spread manure when the ground is frozen, and employing filter areas and wetlands to reduce runoff, what Lake Erie really needs is for Ohio to adopt nutrient standards (not narrative standards that have no enforcement ability). USEPA is proposing nutrient standards in Florida watersheds. Environmental groups including the Sierra Club filed suit in Florida and won based on the Clean Water Act. The court requires Florida to establish nutrient standards which are now proposed by USEPA. The leading opponents to the Florida standards are the Farm Bureau and Scotts Fertilizer based in Ohio. Nutrient standards like the ones proposed in Florida and being developed in Chesapeake Bay can save Lake Erie from being pegged Dead Again. The water quality is as bad as or worse now than it was in 1972 when the Clean Water Act was introduced. If Ohio fails to adopt nutrient standards, Lake Erie will continue to become more green and sicker.
Lake Erie is not Dead Again yet, and there is still time to take action. The Sierra Club is distributing post cards to fill out and send to OEPA Director Korleski but you can write him directly at P.O. Box 1049, Columbus OH 43216 or Click Here Now to write the director electronically and tell him that for the sake of our lakes and rivers Ohio needs nutrient discharge limits. Thank you for taking action to help protect Lake Erie.