Lake Erie and Algal blooms: What can we do?

“Algal blooms” are in the news again. Since the 1970s Lake Erie has made headlines regarding water quality. We see this is true in the recent events that have made harmful algal blooms a topic of discussion. We saw the devastating effects from the Toledo… area with more than 400,000 people directly impacted in their daily lives and their drinking water supplies. It’s time we talk about why this occurred and what we can do about it.

So what causes the algal blooms in the first place? As our storm events intensity with climate change, we can see its effects on flooding, combined sewer overflows and pollution in our waterways. During a storm, the rainfall hits impervious surfaces, such as rooftops and roadways, and runs off the land into our waterways. This also means as it runs off the land, it can pick up sediment, trash, debris, oils, grease, heavy metals, fertilizers and much more. These pollutants make their way into our waterways, drinking water and eventually into Lake Erie.

We can try to treat the pollution, but it can be extremely costly to taxpayers and cities to build or increase the capacity of local water treatment plants. Instead, we should try to prevent runoff and pollution by holding back storm water to allow it to soak into the ground or by following better stewardship practices to reduce pollution.

There are many things each individual can do, below are just a few options to help protect our water quality. Following these tips will save you money and help keep our streams and Lake Erie blue.

Follow the four R’s
Whether you’re a farmer or live in the city, it’s very important to think before you apply fertilizers.

The four R’s of fertilizer are: Right Source, Right Amount, Right Time and Right Place. So what does this all mean?

  • You should always test your soil so you know what to apply and how much (more is not always better).
  • Established turf lawns do not need phosphorus, make sure you select a fertilizer that is phosphorus free for your lawn.
  • Properly stockpile dry manures or cover to prevent movement to waterways.
  • Never apply before a rain.
  • Be careful of waterways and drains where your fertilizer can wash away.

Hold back the storm with rain gardens and rain barrels
Residents can help manage rainfall in their community by installing rain gardens and rain barrels at their home. Rain gardens are a type of landscape designed to collect rainfall (from gutters and drives) and store it so it can soak into the ground. Rain barrels are a type of rain water harvesting system that allows you to collect water for use between storms. Rain water is better for plants and best of all — it’s free.

By installing one or both of these at your home, you are helping your community and Lake Erie by reducing flooding and raw sewage discharges from combined sewer overflows. Erie Soil & Water Conservation District will hold a rain barrel workshop Sept. 27 at 3 p.m. at Old Woman Creek. Registration is required. For more information contact the Erie SWCD at 419-626-5211.

Properly maintain your home sewage treatment
Proper maintenance of sewage treatment systems will maximize the performance of your system and help protect our surface water and groundwater. Remembering these items will aid the function of your sewage treatment system:

  • Pump out your septic tank every 3-5 years.
  • Don’t flush harmful materials or harsh chemicals down your toilet.
  • Conserve water usage, and avoid overloading your sewage system.
  • Do not run water from sump pumps or gutters into your sewage treatment system.
  • Do not plant deep rooted trees on or near your leach field. Tree roots can clog perforated pipes in your leach field.

For more information on what you can do to keep our local waters healthy, contact Erie County Health Department 419-626-5623.

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