Environment

Federal government announces $41 million program to fight algae in Lake Erie

Photo courtesy of the NOAA via Flickr.
Written by Samantha Read

The Natural Resources Conservation Service announced Monday that the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service distributed $41 million for programs to fight the toxic algae in Lake Erie.

According to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, Lake Erie was covered with surface scum, but the toxins were not detected at the public water system in the lake in 2011. By 2014, according to Lake Erie Waterkeeper, Toledo had its first water advisory and told its residents to not to come into contact with it.

Rick Stumpf, an oceanographer with the NOAA National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, believes that the money from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will be used to reduce phosphorous.

“While I’m not involved with the funding, I can speak to the impact on blooms. What it will be used for is programs to reduce phosphorus loads,” Stumpf said. “The spring load of phosphorus, especially dissolved reactive phosphorus, provides the phosphorus that the cyanobacterial blooms need.  They depend on pulses of high concentrations to grow. ‘Good’ algae can grow with low concentrations of phosphorus.”

Stumpf believes that there are considerable advantages reducing phosphorous.

“Reducing the concentration of phosphorus serves two purposes. One, lower concentrations which make it harder for cyanobacteria to start a bloom and two, smaller load of phosphorus going into the lake, which is good, so there is less phosphorus available when the cyanobacterial start growing, and so reduce the size of any bloom that does develop,” Stumpf said.

According to a news release from the United States Department of Agriculture, the initiative will expand conservation and financial assistance opportunities available to Western Lake Erie Basin farmers and ranchers who want to take additional steps to improve the quality of the water feeding into the lake.

Molly Flanagan, vice president of policy at the Alliance for Great Lakes, provided insight on how this will be funded.

“If I am remembering correctly, the new funding is available starting next week. The Western Lake Erie Basin Initiative is a 3-year, $41 million investment,” Flanagan said. “This is in addition to the $367 million in NRCS state resources available in the western Lake Erie basin, bringing the total investment over three years to $77 million.”

The four elements of the initiative are avoiding excess nutrient application, controlling nutrient and sediment movement, trapping nutrient and sediment losses and managing hydrological pathways to reduce nutrient and sediment losses.

Flanagan believes the investment is a good start but will not fully fix the issues.

“Voluntary, incentive based programs have not been able to solve this problem thus far, and there is no reason to believe that they will ever solve the problem,” Flanagan said. “Many farmers are implementing best management practices with and without federal funding because they know it’s the right thing to do for their farms and their community. Right now, NRCS doesn’t have the tools to make bad actors do anything. Without additional regulations and even more investment of public and private funds, we won’t solve the problems in Lake Erie.”

The 2015 algal bloom that spread across the lake was the largest one yet.

About the author

Samantha Read

Samantha is a state writer, studying communication and political science. Originally from New Concord, Ohio, she loves her small town and spending time in the country.

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