A Call for a Deeper Dive on Lake Erie Algae Problems


  • NOAA

COLUMBUS, Ohio - While annual reporting and biweekly bulletins warn Ohioans of harmful algae locations and toxicity in Lake Erie, some clean-water groups contend officials need to also focus on eliminating the problem. The new 2018 Lake Erie Algae Forecast shows that while it will not be a record year for algae, there will be a substantial bloom.

The executive director of the Lake Erie Foundation and Lake Erie Waterkeeper, Sandy Bihn, says the algae updates are valuable and appreciated, but need to include accountability.

"We're talking about where the algae is, how much algae there is," he says. "The flip side of that is what's causing it, how is it being reduced, how far are we along the line of getting the 40-percent reduction we need to solve the problem. And one of the components of that is manure applications."

Bihn says the majority of the phosphorus entering Lake Erie comes from the Maumee and Detroit rivers. And, one-fourth of the discharge from the Maumee is from land manure run-off. Beyond reporting on phosphorus sources, she contends officials must also provide updates on manure management, and which Lake Erie watersheds are making progress in phosphorus reduction.

A 2014 algae bloom impacted the availability of drinking water to half a million Ohio residents. While not the only solution to the algae problem, Bihn says phosphorous reduction is crucial.

"I compare this to phosphorus in laundry detergent decades ago when finally we decided that the way to clean up our waters not only here in Lake Erie but nationwide was to take phosphorus out of laundry detergent,": she explains. "And at first they said that wasn't possible. It's out today."

Among other factors that should be addressed, she adds, is the rising number of mid- and large-size animal feeding operations in Ohio producing more manure and runoff. The land application of manure is supposed to replace commercial fertilizer for crops, but she explains the rules for the amount of phosphorus in the soil you need for crops are less stringent for manure than they are for commercial fertilizer.

"In manure, the rules say you can put a lot more, up to four times as much as you need and obviously that's washing into the water and that's a major problem," she warns.

Water quality groups say the amount of phosphorous allowed to be used should be the same for manure and commercial fertilizer applications. They also call for state investments in technology to reuse or treat manure.

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