BUCYRUS – Agricultural producers are drastically failing in their efforts to curb phosphorus runoff in the western Lake Erie watershed.
That’s the conclusion of a new study conducted by the University of Michigan Water Center, which found that efforts undertaken so far to keep the phosphorus found in agricultural fertilizers and manure from running off fields and into the lake aren’t likely to come close to meeting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s recently announced goal of reducing runoff by 40 percent.
Phosphorus is essentially energy food for algae, which two years ago choked Toledo’s water supply, making it undrinkable. Last year’s algal bloom in the western basin of Lake Erie was the largest on record.
Lake Erie’s watershed extends into northern Richland County, northwestern Marion County, and covers about three-quarters of Crawford County.
In a story March 22 about phosphorus runoff into Lake Erie, The Associated Press reported erroneously that removing nearly 30,000 acres of cropland from production in the Maumee River watershed would be the equivalent of removing 6,300 farms, at an average area of 235 acres each. It actually would be the equivalent of removing about 128 farms from production.
A corrected version of the story is below:
Report: Farmers doing too little to stop Lake Erie algae
A scientific report says reducing phosphorus runoff into Lake Erie enough to prevent harmful algae outbreaks will require big changes on the region’s farms
The Great Lakes are no longer a dumping ground for industrial pollution. But farm run-off, aquatic invaders and climate change are once again putting fish and clean water in jeopardy
March 10, 2016
By Brian Bienkowski
Environmental Health News
Lake Erie’s harmful algal bloom problem can be reversed, but it will likely involve a massive effort to get all farmers to follow good conservation practices to avoid the polluted water runoff from farms feeding the blooms, a new study says.
The study, led by University of Michigan scientists, suggests that the traditional practice of encouraging voluntary conservation efforts may not be enough and says that mandatory conservation practices may be needed.
Large-scale changes to agricultural practices will be required to meet the goal of reducing levels of algae-promoting phosphorus in Lake Erie by 40 percent, a new University of Michigan-led, multi-institution computer modeling study concludes.
Last month, the U.S. and Canadian governments called for a 40-percent reduction, from 2008 levels, in phosphorus runoff from farms and other sources into Lake Erie. The nutrient feeds an oxygen-depleted “dead zone” in the lake and toxin-producing algal blooms, including a 2014 event that contaminated the drinking water of more than 400,000 people near Toledo for two days.
Cutting phosphorus runoff into Lake Erie enough to prevent harmful algae outbreaks would require sweeping changes on the region’s farms that may include converting thousands of acres of cropland into grassland, scientists said in a report Tuesday.
The study released by the University of Michigan Water Center found current efforts to keep phosphorus, which is found in livestock manure and artificial fertilizers, on fields instead of flowing into the lake are falling drastically short of results needed to achieve a 40 percent drop in runoff — a target set by the U.S. and Canada in February.