Pilot project will reduce phosphorus in Lake Erie

[Canada] Marginal land in southern Ontario might solve the problem of poor water quality in Lake Erie.

ALUS Canada and Norfolk County have agreed to a pilot project that will reduce the amount of phosphorus entering the lake as runoff from the countryside.

The project involves planting trees, re-establishing wetlands and planting vegetation along streams in the Lynn River and Big Creek watersheds. The goal is to catch and naturally process nutrients from agricultural runoff before they reach Lake Erie and fuel the growth of algae.

The main problem is phosphorus, which is contained in most fertilizers as well as animal waste.

The theory behind the project is that there are smarter and less expensive ways to reduce phosphorus in the lake than spending untold millions on sewage plant upgrades.

“We could take our discharge levels down to zero and not have much of an impact,” Bob Fields, Norfolk’s manager of environmental services, told Norfolk council Tuesday. “We’re not the big smoking gun when it comes to nutrient loading in Lake Erie. Maybe there are places we can capture a lot more phosphorus for a lot less money.”

Fields says effluent from wastewater treatment plants accounts for between 10 and 15 percent of the phosphorus entering Lake Erie. The rest comes from runoff, most of it from intensive agricultural and livestock operations.

ALUS and Norfolk will collaborate on a funding application to the federal Municipal Climate Innovation Fund.

Norfolk is a good place to test natural methods of capturing and processing phosphorus because the Big Creek and Lynn watersheds are uncomplicated.

As well, Norfolk has data dating back many years on phosphorus loading in Big Creek, the Lynn River and Dedrick Creek in Port Rowan because of the effluent the county has dumped into these watercourses for many decades. This will provide a baseline for measuring phosphorus reductions in the Big Creek and Lynn watersheds.

ALUS stands for “Alternative Land Use Services.” ALUS was launched as a pilot project in Norfolk County in 2008 on the assumption that property owners who give marginal land over to projects that create environmental benefits should be compensated for that.

Today, ALUS funds projects in 21 communities across the country.

Tuesday, ALUS Canada president Brian Gilvesy, of Tillsonburg, said ALUS has raised $1.4 million from various sources for ALUS projects in Norfolk over the past nine years. The only contribution Norfolk will make to this latest project is data, staff time and expertise.

“This information will be valuable not only for Norfolk but for the entire Lake Erie watershed,” Lara Ellis, director of strategic initiatives for ALUS Canada, told council.

Algae blooms have been a serious problem in the warmer west end of Lake Erie in recent summers. The algae has been washing up on beaches in large clots, giving off a foul odor as it rots.

Algae blooms that die in the lake suck oxygen out of the water as they decompose. This is bad for fish and other organisms that rely on the lake ecosystem.

Some types of algae give off toxins as they rot, raising concerns about the safety of drinking water in shoreline communities that draw raw water from Lake Erie.

Algae is less of a problem in Lake Erie off Norfolk County because the water in the eastern section of the lake is colder and deeper. As such, this part of Lake Erie is less hospitable to vegetative growth.


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