Nutrients / Algae

Algae in Lake Erie
There is good algae, and there is bad algae … and the nutrients phosphorous and nitrogen that fuel the algae

A proportionate quantity of algae to algae feeders in a body of water is indicative of a healthy body of water because, naturally, certain types of algae serve as food for certain types of fish. In some cultures, humans use algae for food. After all, seaweed is algae!

However, when a disproportionate quantity of algae to algae feeders is found in a body of water, we have an unhealthy body of water. Or, when a species of algae is introduced into a body of water without natural algae feeders present, such as in the case of the Lyngbya wollei invasive algae, it can cause tremendous destruction to a previously healthy ecosystem.

These algal blooms consume all the oxygen in water, killing off other aquatic life. This death by oxygen-deprivation is known as anoxia. The aquatic life in Lake Erie has perished by anoxia before, and the lake was declared dead. The way things are going, it could happen again.

Algal blooms feed on an excess of nutrients present in the water, namely nitrogen and phosphorous. Though declared dead in the 1960s, Lake Erie, got a lot of help from phosphorous reductions in the outfalls of wastewater plants, no till at farms, and States such as Michigan and Ohio banning the phosphorous in laundry detergents.  The lake was able to breathe and recover.

However, since 1995, dissolved phosphorous has been steadily increasing. There are many sources for this phosphorous: agricultural runoff, manure runoff from factory farms (CAFOs), dishwasher detergents, wastewater discharges, zebra mussel excretions, existing sediments, increasing temperatures, power plants heating the water, failing septic systems, lawn fertilizers and more.

In 2011 Lake Erie had the largest algae bloom in recorded history.  The bloom extended from Toledo to beyond Cleveland and along the Ontario shore.  The bloom extended over ten miles from the shores and in the central basin was observed at a depth of 60’.  The density of the algae slowed boat motors down.

Algae can be toxic.  When it has an aqua color, chances are it is toxic.  The same can be true of the green dense algae, there is no visual way to determine toxic algae from nontoxic.

Ohio Phosphorous Task Force Study

Detroit River Phosphorous Study

Great Lakes – Lake Erie Nutrient Trends Sparrow Model

Phosphorous Testing and Loads  Heidelberg

Phosphorous, Nitrates, Chlorophyll, Ammonia and more sampling since 1975

Resolution Requesting Reductions in Lake Erie Nutrients/Algae

Full Text of the Resolution (Proposed)

WHEREAS in 2011 Lake Erie experienced the largest algal bloom in recorded history; and,

WHEREAS Lake Erie is drinking water for over 11 million people; and,

WHEREAS Lake Erie is the 12th largest freshwater lake in the world and supplies over half the consumable fish in the Great Lakes; and,

WHEREAS Lake Erie contributes over 10,000 jobs and over $10 billion to Ohio’s economy; and,

WHEREAS the algae in Lake Erie is having an adverse impact on tourism, fishing, boating and shoreline property values; and,

WHERAS Ohio has taken definitive action on an algae problem in Grand Lake St. Marys with the expenditure of millions of dollars and special regulatory requirements with the creation of a distressed watershed and similar action is needed for Lake Erie; and,

WHEREAS research shows that over 80% of the phosphorous to Lake Erie are from the Detroit and Maumee Rivers; and

WHEREAS the Detroit wastewater plant is the single largest wastewater plant in the U.S. serving over 3 million people I 76 communities and processing about 650 million gallons of sewage daily and with a 2011 record 45 billion gallons of combined sewer overflows in 2011, and regularly discharging over 5% of the phosphorous to Lake Erie with a permit up for review in 2012; and,

WHEREAS the Toledo Shipping channel is the most dredging channel in the Great Lakes with up to one million cubic yards dredged annually with almost all open lake dumped since 2003 causing turbidity and the resuspension of nutrient rich sediments; and

WHEREAS the practice of applying fertilizer including manure to frozen ground contributes to the nutrients in Lake Erie; and

WHEREAS Lake Erie is resilient,  and with nutrient reductions, can recover quickly because western Lake Erie, where the algae blooms originate, turns over every 30 – 45 days and the rest of Lake Erie every 2.6 years; and,

WHERAS some of the Lake Erie algae is toxic and threatens animal and public health when coming in contact with the algae; and,

WHERAS the algae adds significant costs to water intake treatment for drinking water; and,

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the State of Ohio lead the efforts to solve the growing algae problem in Lake Erie by participating in the Detroit Wastewater permit in 2012; seek an end to the practice of open lake dumping of dredged Toledo shipping channel sediments; and provide the same ban on fertilizer application in the Lake Erie watershed as was done on Grand Lake St. Marys; and provide consistent phosphorous limits for agriculture and manure in soil samples; and,

THEREFORE BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that a Total Maimum Daily Load for NutrientsTMDL) be conducted in western Lake Erie and that continuous monitors for phosphorous, nitrates, and oxygen be conducted at the outfalls of the Detroit and Maumee Rivers; and,

THEREFORE BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this resolution be sent to Governor Kasich and members of the Ohio legislature.