[USA] A diverse panel of environmental experts and state legislators met in a packed house to discuss the problem of harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie, its primary causes and what can be done to reduce it.
The panel, hosted by the Lake Erie Improvement Association at the Catawba Island Club on Friday, covered a wide range of topics directly related to the issue of harmful algal blooms.
One recurring point of emphasis was the possibility of officially declaring Lake Erie’s western basin “impaired,” as specified in the Clean Water Act, which would trigger an assessment by the Environmental Protection Agency and implementation of a recovery plan, where much more rigorous restrictions could be enforced for the amount of pollutants that can be fed into the lake.
Jeff Reutter, director of the Ohio Sea Grant and Stone Laboratory on Gibraltar Island, spoke at length about the science behind the problem. Lake Erie is particularly vulnerable to harmful algal blooms because of its comparatively high average temperatures and high concentrations of nutrients.
Significant influxes of phosphorus, most of which result from agricultural runoff during heavy rains, are further overloading the lake with nutrients that harmful algae thrive on.
Reutter noted that dissolved reactive phosphorus, specifically, is a much better predictor for the forecasting of a bloom and its severity rather than the total phosphorus, which previous studies used. A new model with a focus on dissolved phosphorus made a disturbing finding: 2015 was the worst bloom on record for Lake Erie, surpassing even 2011.
Consequently, much of the action taken thus far over the past several years to address the problem is not having the desired impact, he said, despite some improvements made in other areas, such as the reduction in human illness and dog deaths.
Another area that researchers were previously unaware of was the high rate of dissolved phosphorus concentrations running off from agricultural tile drainage. Many of the farmers themselves are just recently learning just how high this rate is as well.
Reutter said he spoke this week to farmers who simply were not aware of the nutrient issues with tile runoff, but he said they are willing to take action to address the problem.
“We’ve seen a tremendous increase in the understanding and the involvement of the agricultural community,” he said.
Larry Antosch, senior director of policy development and environmental policy at the Ohio Farm Bureau, is on the forefront in working with that community to tackle these issues.
Antosch stressed how nutrient management is a statewide issue, and the importance of cooperation.
In 2012, the Ohio Farm Bureau sent a letter to every member of its 20 partnered organizations outlining the part agriculture has to play and the beginning principles of nutrient management.
“We felt it was very important that the same consistent message came out from multiple sources and went to everyone,” Antosch said. “The last thing we wanted to have was mixed messages or conflicting information.”
The bureau also has spent nearly $2 million of its own funds to address water quality issues through numerous initiatives, projects and research collaborating with other organizations.
They have developed “demo farms” that showcase and demonstrate to farmers new practices found to have been most effective for reducing dissolved reactive phosphorus runoff.
“Why Ohio Farmers’ progressive approach? It’s the right thing to do,” Antosch said. “Agriculture realizes we’re part of the problem; we’re part of the solution. We want to do what we can to address the issue.”
He added that the challenge will be matching expectations with reality, understanding that it takes time to adjust.
“We all have a stake in this,” state Rep. Steve Arndt, R-Port Clinton, said. “Whether you’re commercial industry, agriculture, a resident, a farmer, we all have a responsibility to the environment. It shouldn’t be any one individual’s burden to correct the algal blooms.”
Photo: Pictured from left to right: Andrew Solocha, Pam Taylor, Jeff Reutter, Steve Arndt and Larry Antosch. (Photo: Jon Stinchcomb/News Herald)
View original article at: Collaboration key to prevent harmful algal blooms