U.S. and Canada Need to Reduce Algae Blooms in Lake Erie, Report Says

By Clancy, Clare | The Canadian Press, August 29, 2013 | Go to article overview

U.S. and Canada Need to Reduce Algae Blooms in Lake Erie, Report Says


Clancy, Clare, The Canadian Press


Lake Erie threatened by algae blooms: Report

--

Canada and the U.S. should crack down on sources of phosphorus runoff blamed for a rash of harmful algae blooms on Lake Erie, an advisory agency said Thursday.

The International Joint Commission said in a draft report that urgent steps are needed to curb runaway algae -- which produce harmful toxins and contribute to oxygen-deprived "dead zones" where fish cannot survive.

The issue prompted both nations to reach their first agreement to improve Great Lakes water quality more than 40 years ago, when some considered Erie ecologically dead.

Tougher standards for municipal and industrial waste treatment produced improvements by reducing the flow into the lake of phosphorus on which algae feeds.

The report's Canadian co-author, Glenn Benoy, said algae blooms had almost disappeared but now there is a recurrence.

"Some of the worst blooms we've seen in the lake happened in the last five to seven years," he said from Ottawa.

In 2011, the largest mass on record formed in the lake's western basin, eventually reaching more than 160 kilometres from Toledo to Cleveland, Ohio.

Benoy -- a senior water quality and ecosystem adviser -- said there is evidence an algae bloom is starting to spread now, but he doesn't know how severe it will be as blooms tend to peak in the fall.

The report says different sources of phosphorus runoff have emerged -- primarily large farms, where manure and other fertilizers are washed into tributary rivers during storms and snowmelt.

They accounted for more than half of the phosphorus that reached the lake in 2011, while one-third came from smaller farms and nearshore communities as well as city sewers.

More intense storms likely caused by climate change are sweeping more nutrients into the lake, the report says. Additionally, unlike decades ago, much of the phosphorus dissolves in water, making it easier for algae to consume.

"The ultimate concern is that there will be some toxicity associated with severe blooms and it's this toxicity that can affect human health, animal health," Benoy said, adding that this is in an extreme scenario.

The report includes 15 key recommendations, including prohibition of nearly all use of phosphorus fertilizers for lawn care and the monitoring of sewage plants and other facilities that discharge into the lake. …

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