Huge swaths of western Lake Erie are cloaked in massive algae blooms that are chasing away tourists, harming the walleye population (part of the region’s $7 billion sport fishery), closing down beaches, driving down property values and incurring costs on cities that have to incur more costs to ensure that people in the region have safe, clean drinking water. But that’s not all, algae blooms are gross. Why? Poo, it all goes back to poo and it really is ahem, a pooey situation. Algae blooms are caused by excessive nutrients in the water—basically, human and animal waste, as well as farm fertilizer run-off.
Western Lake Erie is under siege from billions of gallons of sewage overflows from Detroit and Toledo as well as animal waste and fertilizer run-off from surrounding agricultural land. The result is a lake that—after having made one of the biggest comebacks in environmental history—is now in danger been declared “dead” again. In the 1960s and 1970s sewage contamination was the dominant source of algae-causing pollution. Now, farms are the leading cause of pollution contaminating Lake Erie.
“The number one source of algae-growing phosphorus continues to be farm runoff,” according to an interview the Toledo Blade did with David Barker, a professor at Heidelberg University Center for Water Quality. http://www.toledoonthemove.com/news/story.aspx?id=503124
The acres of algae that have been ubiquitous over the past month are very troubling. Western Lake Erie is one of the most biologically productive freshwater resources on the planet—though as the shallowest, warmest Great Lakes, it is also the most ecologically fragile. The toxins in the algae blooms are capable of sickening people and hurting and killing wildlife, livestock and pets which drink the water or absorb the poison through their skin. The illness causes diarrhea, vomiting and stomach cramps and some dogs that have drunk the shoreline waters have died from it.
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency formed the Ohio Lake Erie Phosphorus Task Force to study the algae blooms and the level of phosphorus pollution to find correlations. The study finds that farm runoff from commercial fertilizers and livestock is the most significant source of phosphorus and the most impacted area is in Erie’s western basin where the Maumee and Sandusky river watersheds exist.
It has been estimated that it will take a 75 percent reduction in phosphorus runoff to make the algae problem dissipate.http://www.toledoonthemove.com/news/story.aspx?id=503124
The Task Force’s report emphasizes that agriculture run-off is the biggest problem. To solve vexing problem of algal blooms, the state leaders need to work with farmers to cut agriculture pollution and reduce the amount of fertilizer and animal waste that gets into our region’s rivers, lakes and streams.
It is high time that the region tackle this problem. After making so much progress in the 1970s and 1980s to reduce phosphorus loads into our waterways and curb algae blooms, it is inexcusable to allow the problem to come back.
We have solutions to this problem. It is time to use them.