Expert: Runoff spurs Lake Erie algal blooms

Phosphorous reduction goal of forum
Alex Green
Mar 26, 2014

 

Dr. Jeffery Reuter of the Stone Laboratory called for a 40 percent reduction in phosphorus loading at Tuesday’s Lake Erie farm forum.

More than 100 local farmers and residents listened to agriculture professionals talk about farm runoff and its continuing effect on Lake Erie algal blooms.

Reuter admitted the sharp decrease would be a tall task, but he assured the public that it is possible.

“In 1971 we wanted to reduce (runoff) by (two-thirds)” he said. “It didn’t seem possible but we did it”

As many people know, last year was a disconcerting one for the health of Lake Erie.

Reuter said 2013 and 2011 have been the only algal blooms known to last through October. He compared the modern-day outbreak to that of the ’70s.

“(Back then), two-thirds of the load came from sewage treatment” Reuter said. “Today, somewhere between (65 and 93 percent) comes from farm runoff”

He used satellite images to portray the now greenish-lake.

It showed vibrant colors near the Maumee River, which has always been a popular source for runoff, Reuter said.

Walleye Capital of the World
Dave Spangler of the Charter Boat Captain Association proclaimed what makes Ottawa County unique.

“We are, no doubt, the walleye capital of the world,” he said. “No one else has the numbers and the size of the fish. We need to keep it that way”

But blooms have had significant impacts on the local fish population and even the local economy.

He said 85 to 90 percent of his charter boat business comes from out-of-state sales.

These same customers have grown frustrated with the lake’s condition in recent years.

“I’ve had people tell me I’m not coming back in the fall if the water is like this,” Spangler said. “I did a 25-mile trip and never got out of the green water. It has a musty smell to it, too”

Microcystins have altered the lake’s food supply, thus impacting the fish population.

Spangler said Lake Erie is now seeing more undesirable fish such as the white perch as opposed to the desirable yellow perch.

2013 was the worst year in terms of the bloom and the fish population, he said.

“Everyone has to fix this” he said. “We’re all part of the problem”

Ottawa County Commissioner Jim Sass passionately took the microphone during the forum to discuss a subject near-and-dear to his heart.

Sass is a lifelong farmer as well as county commissioner in place that should be most concerned with the issue of algal blooms, he said.

“With over 100 miles of shoreline, no other county has as much at stake,” Sass said.

Best practices
Bret Margraf of the Seneca County Soil and Water Conservation District offered tips to farmers in attendance.

He said the study of reducing runoff is ongoing, and there is no single solution.

No-till farming was thought to perhaps be that silver bullet, but algal blooms still ran rampant from 2011 through 2013 when no-till practices were increasing in Ottawa County.

The type of farming is a way of growing crops from year-to-year without disturbing the soil through tillage. He stressed the importance of water infiltration systems.

“Farmers want a lot of water for growing season, and we want it all gone in the winter,” he said. “Water infiltration systems are the closest thing to having that”

Margraf also encouraged farmers to grow cover crops which should be used with no-till farming.

He also encouraged conservation cropping systems that crops underneath dead crops salvage nutrients from the previous crop.

“You have something to drive on in the fall to help buffer any damage” he said.

Comments

AJ Oliver

Many of us will pitch in - it would be downright criminal to bequeath to our kids and grandkids a sewer. That is what will happen unless we act.

2cents's picture
2cents

So what about the residential fertilizers used for homes and other properties? You seem to be picking on the farmers but how does the fertilized acreage add up from all the residential fertilization? Data please of tonnage of sales affected areas.

Just asking!

The Bizness

The phosphorus from non farmers comes mostly from sewage.