Report: Farm run-off polluting Lake Erie

Apr 30, 2013

A new report called ‘Taken By Storm’ released by the National Wildlife Foundation is highlighting the issue of excessive fertilizer runoff into Lake Erie. The resulting algal blooms can seriously impact the health of those who rely on its water.

Map of Lake Erie
Credit WBFO News file photo

The report focuses on Ohio’s Maumee River, ground zero for the algal blooms, and describes an increase of the toxic blooms in watersheds connected to Lake Erie, largely due to global warming. Since 1995, the report notes, the amount of dissolved reactive phosphorus entering Lake Erie from the Maumee River has increased 218 percent.

Melinda Koslow, Regional Manager for the NWF said the algal blooms are created when heavy rainfall washes excess fertilizer and manure off fields and into waterways.

“These thick green mats of algae are not only unsightly they are a huge problem. Harmful algal blooms can even sicken or even kill people or pets. They can harm wildlife, hurt outdoor recreational opportunities like swimming and cost municipalities more money to treat drinking water,” said Koslow.

Koslow said Western New York’s shoreline on Lake Erie is relatively safe, but the threat can spread with algal blooms already reaching Cleveland. She says the report is a wake-up call for local, state and federal officials to come up with solutions, and provide stronger support for the restoration of wetland areas.

“The basin only has 5% of the wetlands it used to have pre-settlement, so it’s really, really small, but were bringing those back to life and that will help filter some of the nutrients coming down the pipe,” said Koslow.

Senior research scientist at the National Center for Water Quality Research at Heidelberg University Peter Richards said a big part of the solution will be more research to find out where the phosphorus waste is coming from.

Director of the Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute Don Scavia contributed to the report. He said it’s also important to insert a clause into the farm bill that would require farmers to participate in conservation studies in order to access crop insurance and subsidies.