A two-part article on WKSU’s website delves into recent research attempting to understand the causes of harmful and often very large algal blooms in Lake Erie. The potential negative impacts these blooms can have include depleting nutrients from the waterway, endangering fish and wildlife health, and causing economic concerns by prohibiting or discouraging recreation, tourism, and other industries.
Part one of the article delves into one major contributor identified by the research: agriculture.
“Financial viability is the bottom line for most farmers here along the Maumee River. The Maumee passes through 4.5-million acres of farmland before entering Lake Erie at Toledo. Along the way it picks up a lot of topsoil from farm fields. Attached to that soil are fine particles of phosphorus, one of the nutrients that helps crops grow, but also feeds algae blooms. No-till farming has reduced particulate phosphorus runoff by nearly 40-percent. But researchers from Heidelberg University say their thirty years of water quality data shows that another form of phosphorus – called dissolved phosphorus – has risen dramatically in recent years. And to reduce that nutrient enough to curb Lake Erie algae blooms will take a whole new set of techniques.”
The second article describes another common source of phosphorous and other problem substances – stormwater and sewage.
“The sport fishing industry, beach resorts, amusement parks – all took a hit from the 2011 algae outbreak. Connor says cities …not just farms…have to do more to stay on top of it.
Overflows from sewage systems that collect storm water and waste water are a fairly regular occurrence in Cleveland, Toledo, Detroit and other communities around the lake. And it’s a huge cost to fix it.”
There is a lot of interesting information in both articles, and the occurrence of and concern over these algal blooms isn’t limited to Lake Erie. All of the Great Lakes and other nearby waterways can be susceptible, so the results of studies such as these are important in helping communities prevent the same types of problems in their areas. Our friends at Michigan Sea Grant have produced a brochure for beach managers that outlines more information about algal blooms, and IISG has produced a card for homeowners that explains how to properly care for your lawn without contributing to the phosphorous problem.