Lawmakers mull Lake Erie algal bloom crisis

While the toxic algae in Lake Erie is a growing problem, decisive action to battle the bloom can still bring positive results quickly, a prominent Ohio scientist told state officials.
Tom Jackson
Dec 10, 2011

While the toxic algae in Lake Erie is a growing problem, decisive action to battle the bloom can still bring positive results quickly, a prominent Ohio scientist told state officials.

Dr. Jeffrey Reutter, director of the Ohio Sea Grant program and Stone Laboratory near Put-in-Bay, was among the top witnesses Friday at the Ohio House’s agriculture and natural resources committee hearing.

The meeting, held at the Lake Erie Shores and Islands West welcome center in Ottawa County, drew committee members Rep. Dennis Murray, D-Sandusky; Rep. Rex Damschroder, R-Fremont; Rep.

Kathleen Clyde, D-Kent; and Rep. Randy Gardner, R-Bowling Green.

Similar problems in the last few decades suggest the algal bloom crisis can be fixed, Reutter said.

To drive home his point, he showed the lawmakers a photograph from 1971, in which he is seen with his hand in lake water, covered with green slime. 

He said the lake had a terrible algal bloom crisis that year, which was fed by an excess of phosphorus.

The crisis was reversed thanks to improvements in municipal sewage treatment systems and better practices by farmers.

Lake Erie then became the best example for recovery of an ecosystem, he said.

Since 1995, however, conditions in the lake have worsened, a problem once again driven by an overabundance of phosphorus.

If the systems causing the problem can be addressed — reducing phosphorus pollution, for instance — Lake Erie would improve almost immediately, Reutter said.

But there may be added challenges this time around.

Climate change is making the bloom worse, Reutter said. Rising temperatures make the lake water warmer, encouraging algae growth.

Severe storms occur more often, too, increasing runoff from agricultural land. Storm runoff events are up 67 percent from 1960 to 2010, Reutter said.

New research also suggests that drainage tiles — subsurface pipes that remove excess water from farmland to improve crop production — contribute to the phosphorus problem. Reutter called for a moratorium on tiling.

Two members of Gov. John Kasich’s cabinet spoke at the hearing and said the governor backs efforts to rescue Lake Erie from the algal bloom.

Jim Zehringer, director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said he spoke to the governor Thursday morning.

“This is No. 1 on our radar screen,” Zehringer said. “We are committed to solving these issues.”

Ohio EPA director Scott Nally said officials must work with the agricultural community, municipalities and industry leaders to tackle the problems contributing to the algal bloom.     

Farmers can help by learning and following the “4R” rules for applying fertilizer: using the right fertilizer source, at the right rate, at the right time, and with the right placement.

Farmers should also avoid applying fertilizer to frozen ground, Zehringer said.

But even as agriculture has some role in causing this algal bloom, farmers showed in the 1970s that they were willing to help restore the lake.

Other problems may prove more difficult to address.

Noting the city of Detroit’s financial problems, Murray asked Nally what can be done to deal with the large amount of waste that Detroit’s inadequate wastewater treatment plant dumps into the lake.

Nally said a federal judge is “turning the screws” and trying to force Detroit to do a better job, but progress is being hampered by the city’s lack of money.

Sandy Bihn, of Lake Erie Waterkeeper, said she believes Ohio should get involved in the renewal next year of Detroit’s discharge permit.

“While the Ohio cities of Toledo, Sandusky, Cleveland and others are required to reduce and treat overflows, Detroit should be required to do the same,” she said.

Find out what local tourism officials are saying about the problem in Saturday's Register.

Video credit: Dave Byknish

Comments

eriemom

 I can't believe Dr. Reutter said the words "climate change" in a room full of republcans and survived. Maybe now that we see what the local implications are an intelligent conversation can take place to adapt from the certainty of the situation. I have little hope that we will overt the inevitable.

Put your money into solar. It is close to reaching parity with coal. It will be a more efficient energy source within 10 years. Or, you can believe FOX, and not diversify.

goofus

Solar???? As in Solyndra,Evergreen Solar, and Spectrawatt all bankrupt. I thought liberals hated walmart for chinese imports let alone three of the top four producers of solar panels being chinese firms. Suntech,JA solar and Yingli Green LOL. What's up with that, more dependence on China.

The New World Czar

FWIW, I believe Fox. Solar and wind power make good supplements but are not the end-all. Leave the coal, natural gas, and nuke sources alone.

Climate change is what it is, it will continually change with time, and not because of man.

eriemom

 goofus: So don't.

NWZ: I don't care that your personal friends at FOX and fossil fuel cohorts have you brainwashed. Just take a critical look at what is actually happening in your own back yard. You can believe that the boggy man is to blame. Just back the science in this for once. Get active, and do whatever it takes to save Lake Erie. Your children and grandchildren will thank your for your forward-thinking action.

You will be protecting our drinkng water, as well as our economy. As the southwest quadrant of America becomes a desert, the northwest quadrant looses it snowpack water supply, and the southern coast finds itself underwater, Ohio will become prime real estate.

tisanjosh

Melodie Campbell and Stephen A.describe Heaven's Gate and Order of the Solar Temple as among the most controversial of the UFO belief groups. Scientology is seen by scholars as a UFO religion, due to its Xenu cosmogony and the presence of Space opera in Scientology doctrine.

goofus
The New World Czar

EMOM: Funny you mention saving the planet. My investment in my cousin's drilling company in West Texas has done something great for communities there...when oil isn't hit, water is. Those who want it get it pumped and piped it to their WTP facilities and/or reservoirs at a cut rate price. We get residual revenue, they get cheap water. I call that win-win, it helps pay for the second home in the Hill Country, especially when there's no state income tax and plentiful Shiner products to sip on.

For Lake Erie, let's send the OWS people to Detroit, let them occupy the WWTP facilities there, or better yet they can clean out the sludge lagoons before the phosphorous-treated waste gets into the ecosystem again. That's where the bulk of the gunk is coming from in the first place.

  

eriemom

 I'm not going to continue to reply to either of your blathering. Just help to fix the problem.

Goof: I should have made myself clear to a person whom thinks only about their own stock portfolio. The PVC is quickly approaching parity with fossil fuels. It will become cost effective for property owners. We made sure that China is becoming the leader in its manufacture.

The New World Czar

EMOM- please try and have a Merry Christmas. You really seem agitated....we're all going to be alright.

gilamonster
Eriemom; ever wonder why China leads the way with solar panels? One they burn coal to fire most their power generation. Two, making solar panels, etching, and wafers is a highly toxic process. For every pound of cells, four pounds of highly toxic metals are produced. (silicone tetrachloride, sulfur hexaflouride,etc) China doesn’t have the US EPA to deal with. Silicone Valley Toxics Coalition was formed to address waste and mistakes of the microelectronics industry; some solar panels only have a 25 year real world lifespan so now recycling becomes an issue, so much for going green.   I agree we need to take care of our lake, but not for your Gore-inspired doomsday scenario. If i worried as much as you I would have to stay medicated just to leave my cave.    

 

eriemom

gila:  And this is a good thing? The Chinese people have had enough, and are forcing their government to act.

goofus

Forcing people to react like in Tiamenem Square. Get real, China is building more coal generating plants than you can stop a tank with.

gilamonster
China uses so much coal for cheap power generation that they import it; by 2015 it said they would import 200 million tons of coal.   My point was production of solar cells remain far from green, one manufacturer in silicone valley was shut down and declared a superfund sight. Countries like China will lead the way as they have no-little restrictions in manufacturing. Same thing with steel, as the EPA forced more regulations China stepped up and took over that industry also.   If you call sporadically enforcing regulation and telling the media what it wants to here; I guess they are taking action.