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Lake Erie

Drowning in manure

18 hours ago
Free Use Photos / Flickr, http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

I want to warn you that today, I’m going to be talking about poop. Specifically, more than 3.3 billion gallons of it a year, all of it produced in Michigan by what are euphemistically called “Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations,” or CAFOs.

Many of us call them “Factory Farms” instead. They are places where animals are crowded in what are anything but humane conditions to be fattened as quickly as possible for slaughter, or if they are cows, drained of their milk.

But beyond animal cruelty, what I’m concerned about is our drinking water. Three years ago, toxic algal blooms in Lake Erie left the water unsafe to drink for a few days.

Saving Lake Erie

Apr 27, 2017
A cyanobacteria bloom on Lake Erie in 2013.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

There’s a little-noticed battle going on across the region to save Lake Erie. Now, I know this story can’t possibly compare in interest or importance to a bunch of football players visiting Rome, or which politician might run for something next year.

A hackathon for Lake Erie

Apr 14, 2017
A cyanobacteria bloom on Lake Erie in 2013.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Pollution and other problems plague areas all over the Great Lakes region, and they can make drinking or swimming dangerous. There’s plenty of blame to go around for this – city water utilities, agriculture, and politicians to name a few.

Now an unlikely industry has joined the search for solutions: technology is taking on Lake Erie.

Wind turbine
Ken Whytock / Flickr

Two birding groups have filed suit to block the Ohio National Guard from building a commercial-scale wind turbine along the shore of western Lake Erie.

The American Bird Conservancy and the Black Swamp Bird Observatory of Ohio filed suit in U.S. District Court in Washington. They say the Ohio Air National Guard’s wind turbine project at Camp Perry, less than a mile from the Lake Erie shoreline, has already violated the Endangered Species Act and other environmental regulations.

A cyanobacteria bloom on Lake Erie in 2013.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

The buildup of nutrients in western Lake Erie can trigger algae growth – and contaminate drinking water in nearby cities. That happened as recently as 2014, when Toledo residents could not drink their water for two days.

Jeff Reutter / Ohio State University

The Michigan Agri-Business Association, a trade group representing agricultural interests, is launching a campaign to educate farmers about best practices to keep chemical fertilizers and manure from flowing into streams and rivers that lead into Lake Erie.

The fertilizers and manure contain nutrients that encourage the growth of toxic cyanobacteria. 

A cyanobacteria bloom on Lake Erie in 2013.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Last night I drove almost a hundred miles into Ohio to preside over a discussion with huge implications for Michigan. The topic was the future of Lake Erie, the warmest and shallowest of the Great Lakes and a major source of drinking water for 11 million people.

A lighthouse on Pelee Island in Lake Erie.
Richard Hsu / Flickr

The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a health advisory for microcystin. That’s the toxin that shut down Toledo’s drinking water supply in 2014.

It’s released by a kind of cyanobacteria that’s been forming on Lake Erie every year, and it can hurt your liver.

Tom Whitten / FLICKR - HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

 

It's an especially precarious time for Lake Erie's future.

That's according to Jeffrey Reutter, an aquatic biologist and limnologist from Ohio State University who has studied the lake since 1971.

It's his belief that if we lose the EPA, we lose Lake Erie.

mark brush / Michigan Radio

Ohio State University researchers say the public is willing to pay part of the price to address Lake Erie’s cyanobacteria problem.  

Satellite image of algal bloom in Lake Erie taken in 2015.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Several environmental groups have filed a notice threatening to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency if it doesn't take action to clean up Lake Erie.

A cyanobacteria bloom on Lake Erie in 2013.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder and state environmental officials have declared western Lake Erie is an “impaired” waterway that needs to be cleaned up.       

The problem is algae blooms that threaten plants and wildlife. The blooms are caused largely by phosphorous runoff from agricultural fertilizers. Two years ago, the algae blooms forced Toledo to declare a drinking water emergency.

Mike Alexander is with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. He says Michigan and other states and Canadian provinces that border western Lake Erie are already working on the problem.

Joe Connolly / Cornell University

There’s a new creature in the Great Lakes and it has “cyclops” in its name.

It’s called Thermocyclops crassus. It’s a kind of zooplankton.

Elizabeth Hinchey Molloy is with the EPA’s Great Lakes Program Office. She says it's extremely small.

“It’s less than one millimeter, so smaller than the dot a pencil makes,” she says.

A cyanobacteria bloom on Lake Erie in 2013.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

A lot of people are focused on trying to fix Lake Erie’s toxic bloom problem. The green cyanobacteria blooms are fueled by phosphorus that gets into the lake from farms and sewage treatment plants.

A new report says we need to focus a lot more on cleaning up the streams in Michigan and other states that feed the lake.

Stuart Ludsin is an author of the report and an associate professor at Ohio State University. He says too much sediment, phosphorus and nitrogen can also hurt the fish in streams.

The ESPniagara, aka "lab in a can."
NOAA GLERL

Scientists launched a kind of underwater robotic tool in Lake Erie this week to test the water for toxins.

Timothy Davis is a researcher with NOAA's Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory.

“We affectionately call it a lab in a can,” he says.

He says this tool takes water samples to test the levels of a toxin in the green blooms of cyanobacteria that've been showing up in the lake each year.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

State officials in Ohio want to list parts of the Lake Erie shoreline and drinking water intakes in the lake as impaired. They want to do this because of the toxic blooms of cyanobacteria that have been growing on the lake every year. The blooms are fueled by excess nutrients, mostly phosphorus, that get into the lake from farms and sewage treatment plants.

An impaired listing under the Clean Water Act sets pollution limits and outlines what has to happen to clean up that pollution.

NOAA

Scientists predict this year's cyanobacteria blooms in Lake Erie will be smaller than any year since 2010.

Cyanobacteria produces a dangerous toxin. In 2014 a large mass surrounded Toledo's water intake and shut it down for two days.

Last year, record blooms covered a huge area of Lake Erie with green slime.

Rick Stump is with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He says this year, a relatively dry June will prevent what happened in 2015.

Ohio officials addressing pollutants in Lake Erie

May 3, 2016
Kathy Weaver / photopedia

Sediment in Lake Erie, once thought to be safe, could now pose a threat to life in the lake.

Officials at the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency are tracking a collection of pollutants in the lake that are at unsafe concentrations.

The source is a deposit of dredged material from the U.S. Army Corps, put there decades ago – so long ago the pile was "legacied in" before the Clean Water Act passed in 1972. Testing from the Corps indicated the sediment was safe and stationary.

This photo of Microcystis, a kind of cyanobacteria, was taken in Lake Erie in late July of this year.
Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

It will take big changes to current farming practices to reduce phosphorous runoff into Lake Erie. 

According to a new study by the University of Michigan Water Center, stronger measures are needed to achieve the 40 percent drop from 2008 runoff levels agreed to last month by the U.S. and Canadian governments. 

Phosphorous from farm fertilizers feed the kind of toxin-producing algae blooms that contaminated Toledo's drinking water in 2014 and caused a two day shut down of the city's tap water.

Side sonar scan of the sunken barge believed to be the "Argo."
Tom Kowalczk, CLUE

TOLEDO, Ohio - The U.S. Coast Guard says crews have completed an effort to eliminate environmental threats from a sunken barge that apparently sat undiscovered in Lake Erie for nearly 80 years.

Salvage crews recently pumped hazardous, oil-based substances from the barge, though six of the eight tanks onboard were empty. The Coast Guard said Thursday that the mixture of cargo and water removed from the site near the U.S.-Canadian border totaled over 33,000 gallons.

NOAA

Scientists say a toxic bacteria bloom in Lake Erie this past summer was the largest on record, and produced a thick scum so big it could almost cover New York City.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says the outbreak surpassed the record-setting bloom in 2011 that stretched from Toledo to Cleveland.

Sandy Bihn is with Lake Erie Waterkeeper Inc. 

She says states bordering Lake Erie have to dramatically reduce the amount of phosphorus getting into the lake.

Phosphorus is a nutrient that helps cyanobacteria grow.

Pinhole-sized leak plugged on sunken barge in Lake Erie

Nov 7, 2015
Tom Kowalczk

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) - The U.S. Coast Guard says divers in Lake Erie have found and plugged a pinhole-sized leak on a sunken barge near where an oil-based substance has been spotted in recent weeks.

The Coast Guard says there appeared to be a colorless liquid coming from the tiny leak.

Crews have been monitoring the site near the U.S.-Canadian border since discovering a sheen on the surface late last month.

The substance is believed to be coming from the barge that sank in 1937 and is on a federal registry of the most serious pollution threats to U.S. waters.

wikimedia commons

Wayne County's wastewater treatment plant will soon have to reduce the amount of phosphorus it dumps into the Detroit River.

It's part of the state's plan to lower phosphorus levels in Lake Erie to control cyanobacteria blooms. 

Bill Creal is with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.  He says the new permit for Wayne County will be the same as the permit given to Detroit Water and Sewerage last year, which was more successful at reducing phosphorus than anyone envisioned.

Tom Kowalczk

The Coast Guard says it has not found any active oil leaks from a 78-year-old shipwreck at the bottom of Lake Erie. The wreck site is 12 miles northeast of Sandusky.

The tank barge is believed to be the Argo. Records show it was carrying about 100,000 gallons of crude oil when it sank. No one knows what's still on board, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration considers the Argo to be the biggest pollution threat from a shipwreck in the Great Lakes.

Tom Kowalczk

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) - A dive team is searching for the source of what appears to be an oil-based substance leaking from a barge that sank in Lake Erie during the 1930s.

  The recently discovered barge is one of nearly 90 shipwrecks on a federal registry created two years ago to identify the most serious pollution threats to U.S. waters.

  Most of those wrecks are along the Atlantic seaboard and were sunk by German submarines during World War II.

Side sonar scan of the sunken barge believed to be the "Argo."
Tom Kowalczk, CLUE

Update - Monday, October 26, 10:10 a.m.:

The Coast Guard is sending out a crew from Station Marblehead in Ohio along with members of the Atlantic Strike Team from New Jersey to the wreck site this morning. They'll start doing air monitoring at the site. 

Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer 3rd Class Christopher M. Yaw says the team will work to get a "good, clean sample" of the unknown substance that appears to be leaking from the barge so they can identify it.

A small sample of the thick, bacteria-ridden algae spreading across Lake Erie
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Half a million Toledo residents lost their drinking water in the summer of 2014 thanks to thick carpets of bacteria-laden algae on Lake Erie.

It hammered home a warning that scientists have been trying to sell for years: Lake Erie is in serious trouble.

Andy Stuart, president of the Toledo Rotary Club, wants to make sure no one forgets. The club is hosting a Lake Erie crisis conference this weekend.

This photo of Microcystis, a kind of cyanobacteria, was taken in Lake Erie in late July of this year.
Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

Michigan officials are taking a victory lap in their efforts to reduce the amount of phosphorus flowing from state farms and other sources into Lake Erie. 

Phosphorus helps those slimy, bright green blooms of toxic cyanobacteria grow.

Rebecca Williams/Michigan Radio

There’s a bloom of cyanobacteria in Lake Erie right now. Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are predicting it could become the second worst on record.

Jeff Reutter / Ohio State University

It looks like the toxic bacterial blooms on Lake Erie won't be as bad this summer.

Last August the blooms, which look kind of like algae or pond scum, were dangerous enough that people in Toledo and parts of Michigan couldn't drink their tap water for a few days.

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