State department leaders held a news roundtable in Lansing recently to review the recent algae bloom in western Lake Erie that tainted drinking water for Ohio and Southeast Michigan residents.
The danger was caused by harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie. Blue-green algae are a type of naturally occurring, photosynthetic bacteria. When the organism dies, it releases a toxin called microcystin. The blooms are fueled by phosphorus levels in the water, which come from some key sources on land.
Leaders from the Michigan departments of Environmental Quality and Agriculture and Rural Development stressed that Michigan has taken major steps to address the factors it can control.
"Governor Snyder has charged Michigan government agencies with taking a hard look at what has been done to address the problem and what more we need to do," says DEQ Director Dan Wyant. "The fact is, the algal blooms in Western Lake Erie are the product of several key factors -- municipal sewer discharges, farm and other surface runoff, invasive species like zebra and quagga mussels, and weather.
"We can't control the weather, but we are determined to do all we can with the pieces we can address."
MDARD Director Jamie Clover Adams discussed steps taken in recent years that have reduced phosphorus inputs. Programs like the Michigan Agriculture and Environmental Assurance Program have removed nearly 62,000 pounds of phosphorus from the Western Lake Erie basin watersheds by encouraging farmers to use best practices. The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program has helped create buffers between agriculture operations and surface water.
"For more than 15 years, Michigan has been a leader in the efforts to improve water quality in the western Lake Erie basin. The state's agribusinesses helped and are implementing innovative approaches for fertilizer best practices through the 4R system – the right source, the right rate, at the right time, at the right place," says Clover Adams. "We're committed to work aggressively to expand technical assistance in the basin through conservation districts and other groups to help farmers implement conservation practices. We will continue to work with other state and federal partners to complete the full nutrient reduction proposal under the Farm Bill Regional Conservation Partnership Program."
DEQ announced a five-point plant to bolster Michigan's phosphorus reduction efforts. The plan includes:
•Optimize phosphorus removal at five key wastewater treatment plants in the watershed.
Optimization means fine-tuning plant operations to minimize phosphorus in the treated effluent.
•Reduce agricultural and non-point source discharges to the Maumee River watershed.
•Cease the open water disposal of dredged Toledo Harbor sediments.
•Implement the Phosphorus Control Activities Checklist to best degree achievable.
•Develop science-based understanding of the role of invasive mussels in the basin ecology and how they impact cycling of phosphorus. Support the evaluation of emerging technologies to control invasive mussels.
MDARD also announced long-term plans to focus on agriculture's role in protecting the basin, including:
•Seek the elimination of the sunset on state MAEAP/groundwater funding.
•Work with Michigan agribusiness to build a close linkage between MAEAP and the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Program to enhance agriculture's capacity to reduce nutrient loss to our waterways.
•Continue to aggressively seek out opportunities to expand technical assistance in the WLEB through conservation districts and other organizations to assist farmers in implementing conservation practices.
•Continue work with Ohio and Indiana to complete the full nutrient reduction proposal under the Farm Bill Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) to bring additional funding resources in the WLEB to reduce nutrient loss.•Continue our science-based approach to the application of manure on snow covered or frozen ground, limiting application to only those locations with a low to very low MARI index rating only when necessary and on no slopes greater than 3% for liquid manure nor 6% for solid manure.