Massive blooms of cyanbacteria (sometimes referred to as blue-green algae) and dead zones in Lake Erie: These used to be major environmental problems around the most urbanized Great Lake back in the '60s and '70s, but they are problems once again.
Now, an international agency that keeps an eye on the health of the Great Lakes is calling for more action.
The International Joint Commission, a U.S.-Canadian agency, wants sharp cutbacks on phosphorus runoff getting into Lake Erie.
The amount of phosphorus available in rivers and lakes is one of the main drivers of algae growth. The more you have, the more the cyanobacteria blooms.
The chemical gets into Lake Erie through two big sources:
- Sewage treatment plants (Detroit Sewer and Water is a big source in Lake Erie) and
- Fertilizer runoff from farm fields.
In its report released today, the International Joint Commission identifies farm fertilizer as a primary culprit in feeding runaway cyanobacteria blooms.
The agency is recommending that regulators place Lake Erie on a federal impaired waters list, which would activate a plan to limit phosphorus levels.
The IJC is calling for the implementation of a strict water quality regulation known as "Total Maximum Daily Load," or TMDL.
Under such a scenario, the EPA would place a limit on the amount of nutrients or chemicals that can get into the western basin of Lake Erie (which is fed by the Maumee River).
From the IJC's statement:
... current knowledge is sufficient to justify immediate additional effort to reduce external loading of nutrients to Lake Erie. In particular, the IJC highlights dissolved reactive phosphorus (DRP) as a primary concern and focuses on the Maumee River watershed as the highest priority for remedial action, recommending a 37% reduction for the spring period (March-June) compared to the 2007-2012 average.
The IJC is also calling for more investment in storm water runoff, wetlands restoration, and water quality research and monitoring.
Last fall, we looked at the serious and costly problem of Lake Erie's algae blooms in a series of posts. You can see them here.
Clarification: An earlier version of this story referred to "algae blooms" in Lake Erie. These are really bacterial blooms (cyanobacteria) that look like algae. The copy has been clarified above.