EPA, Canada set to cut phosphorus in Lake Erie 40%

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The Environmental Protection Agency and its Canadian counterpart say the two nations have adopted targets to reduce by 40 percent phosphorus runoff blamed for a series of harmful algae blooms on Lake Erie that contaminated drinking water supplies and helped create oxygen-deprived dead zones.

Canada and the United States have committed to developing domestic plans within two years to help meet the new targets.

The agreement stems from the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement between Canada and the United States in 2012 that pledged to develop updated binational phosphorus reduction targets for Lake Erie by February 2016.

“The first step in our urgent work together to protect Lake Erie from toxic algae, harmful algal blooms, and other effects of nutrient runoff, is to establish these important phosphorus limits,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a statement.

“But establishing these targets is not the end of our work together. We are already taking action to meet them.”

Catherine McKenna, minister of environment and climate change, said Canada recognizes the “urgency and magnitude of the threat” to Lake Erie water quality and ecosystem health posed by the algal blooms.

“By establishing these targets, we strengthen our resolve to work with our American neighbors, and Canadian and U.S. stakeholders who share these waters, to protect the tremendous natural resource that is Lake Erie,” McKenna said in a statement.

The agencies said the targets were developed after “extensive public input” from a variety of sectors.

The urgency of the issue increased following an algae outbreak in August 2014 that contaminated public drinking water supplies for more than 400,000 people in Toledo and parts of southeast Michigan.

The algae bloom that spread across Lake Erie last summer was the largest on record, leaving behind a scum that covered about 300 square miles in early and mid-August, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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