Column: How to fight Lake Erie algae blooms
The algae bloom came late to western Lake Erie this year, turning the waters green from Monroe to the upriver sections of two Ohio rivers during the regional heat wave at the end of September.
And with it came the calls for everyone to “do more, and do it faster.” Communities want these algae blooms stopped, and they want to know that government is taking action quickly to do it.
There are some key facts about these mass algae blooms that everyone concerned about them should know, and the first is this: The problem didn’t start yesterday, and bringing the blooms to an end will take time.
This week, a group of diverse partners announced a new group that will take a cohesive and fresh approach to tackling the Lake Erie algae problem.
Michigan’s Cleaner Lake Erie through Action and Research (MI CLEAR) includes leaders from university research sectors, conservation, tourism, charter fishing, landscape and nursery industries, economic development, farming, drain commissioners, water system operators, and more. Our goal is to bring focus to the wealth of information, expertise and knowledge being gathered now throughout the state, and make key recommendations that will bring long-term benefit to Lake Erie.
Before anyone can “fix” what’s happening in Lake Erie, which ultimately is about nutrients being washed into the system at high levels for many years from many sources, we need to understand how the lake’s changing chemistry is using those nutrients to fuel the algae blooms.
Our group will link state and regional leaders to local interests. It will work to spread out the knowledge map for everyone to see and add to, organize what is known, and develop supportable measures that bring real, long-term change.
What we know is that the conditions in the lake reflect decades of practices on land, in every state and province that touches or filters into Lake Erie: sewer systems that get overwhelmed by rain storms, historical farming practices, residential and golf course fertilizer use, and more.
We know change will take time and will require dedicated commitment over years before we can expect measurable improvements. And we know the change required will take a serious investment of resources already in short supply, but this investment is in the future of our drinking water, our most productive Great Lakes Fishery, our tourism economy, and so much more.
The announcement of MI CLEAR is that first step on a long road, but we believe that with strong leadership, we will reach a place where Lake Erie’s harmful algal blooms are in the rearview mirror.
Jamie Clover Adams is the director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.