Algae bloom, the sequel, spells big trouble for Lake Erie

Given the events of last summer, the bulletin was not exactly comforting.

Lake Erie's 2015 expected algae bloom, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warned recently, could be “among the most severe in recent years” and rival that of 2011. That's when heavy spring rains washed so much phosphorus into the lake that a fifth of its surface was covered in green slime in October of that year.

This year’s bloom, just beginning to form in Erie’s western basin, is already prompting calls for more stringent actions to be taken by industrial agricultural concerns and others to help reduce phosphorus levels that allow algae to thrive. Beyond clogging beaches with unsightly gunk and threatening municipal water systems that draw from Lake Erie, the blooms spawn vast, oxygen-deprived “dead zones” that choke off marine life along with a tourism industry that generates billions of dollars.

RELATED: Voluntary measures haven’t stopped algae blooms in Gulf of Mexico

Last year at this time, another blue-green algae mess infiltrated Toledo's water system, leaving some 400,000 customers in Ohio and southeastern Michigan without safe drinking water for three days. Algae was sucked into one of the system's intake pipes at the lake bottom, contaminating the water with microcystin, a toxin that can cause liver and kidney damage. Last month, Toledo officials said they detected small amounts of microcystin at its intake cribs, but said the water remained safe to drink.

What’s just as discomforting going forward, experts say, is that the increase in blooms in recent years has no apparent end in sight.

“Do I expect that we are going to see a big reduction in algae blooms in the next two or three years? No,” said Laura Rubin of the Ann Arbor-based Huron River Watershed Council, a nonprofit advocacy group that monitors the Huron River watershed that empties into Lake Erie between Wayne and Monroe counties.

“I think it's going to take 20 years or more and it's going to take more regulation. I have not seen the commitment from agriculture that I think is necessary.”

Researchers say that curbing phosphorus-rich agricultural fertilizer runoff ‒ perhaps through federally-imposed limits ‒ is key to halting these toxic blooms, since it comprises more than half the algae-feeding nutrients that flow into the lake. Voluntary measures have thus far failed to curtail that runoff, even as agricultural groups resist calls for tighter regulation of farming.

But Brad Wurfel, spokesman for Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality, said Michigan’s agricultural conservation efforts aren’t the problem, saying, “The problem is far more complex than this narrative of blaming Michigan farmers.”

Renewing a battle

The Great Lakes’ battle with the blooms was a saga that many in the Midwest thought had been solved through landmark environmental legislation in the 1970s.

“We've done the easy things,” said Sean Hammond of the Michigan Environmental Council, a Lansing nonprofit advocacy group. He was referring to measures taken to improve Lake Erie’s waters under the Clean Water Act of 1972, including the upgrade of sewage treatment plants and elimination of phosphates from soaps and laundry detergent.

“This isn't the low-hanging fruit of the 1970s when all we had to do was stop rivers from burning,” he said. “We have to have a full effort from all sectors, urban, suburban and agricultural. This is really the biggest issue facing the lakes right now.”

The stakes are considerable, given that the Great Lakes contain about 20 percent of the world's fresh water.

With about 70 percent of the land along Lake Erie’s western basin, much of it farmland, Ohio contributes most of the phosphorus that reaches the basin. But Michigan, with 18 percent of the watershed's land, and Indiana, with 12 percent, are contributors as well. Overall, an average of about 10,000 tons of phosphorus reaches the lake each year, more in years of heavy rain.

Gov. Rick Snyder acknowledged the issue in June at the Great Lakes governor’s Leadership Summit in Quebec, when he joined with other Great Lakes governors on a resolution aiming at a 40 percent decrease in phosphorus that runs into the western basin of Lake Erie by 2025. It is a steep reduction, but one that environmental experts deem necessary to restore the lake to health.

There's one missing ingredient: Specifics. The resolution offers nothing more concrete than commitment to a yet-to-be-devised plan to reach that goal.

At its peak, the 2011 algae bloom on Lake Erie covered a fifth of the lake's surface. (Photo credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.) At its peak, the 2011 algae bloom on Lake Erie covered a fifth of the lake's surface. (Photo credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.)

A 78-page report issued in June by several Michigan state agencies, “Sustaining Michigan's Water Heritage,” highlights the issue as well. But it is no more specific about solutions. On the issue of algae blooms, it recommends: “Develop a comprehensive strategy to prevent nuisance and harmful blue green algal blooms. Achieve a 40 percent phosphorus reduction in the western Lake Erie basin.”

Last week, Michigan conservation and agricultural leaders announced a partnership aimed at addressing the issue, calling for more research and encouragement of voluntary conservation practices by agriculture. Whether it makes a dent in the problem remains to be seen.

“Doing the same things we've done in the past will not solve the problem,” said Jim Byrum of the Michigan Agri-Business Association, which is joining with the Michigan League of Conservation Voters in the partnership.

No surprise

The outlines of the problem have been evident for years, well before the headline-grabbing algae blooms of 2011 and 2014.

A 2010 report by the Ohio Lake Erie Task Force, comprised of state and federal officials, academic experts and representives of the agricultural sector, noted that extensive algae blooms were common in the 1960s and 1970s. It credited the Clean Water Act with making the lake healthy again.

But the 2010 report noted that blue-green algae blooms, different from the green algae blooms of the 1960s, began to appear in the 1990s, with a “massive bloom” in 2003 and “particularly extensive blooms” in 2007 and 2008. The report ties these blooms to rising amounts of dissolved phosphorus reaching the lake, the introduction of zebra and quagga mussels, which altered the lake’s ecosystem, and heavy rainstorms that may be linked to climate change.

In recent years, blooms appeared in Saginaw Bay and Green Bay as well. Scientists say the blooms also contribute to the growth of marine dead zones ‒ where few fish can live ‒ as decomposing algae use up oxygen in the water.

In a key finding, the report noted that dissolved phosphorus is of “particular concern because it is almost 100 percent bioavailable” to blue-green algae. Translation: Dissolved phosphorus is like Superfood to algae.

Farming becomes a target

Experts identify agriculture as the biggest culprit, as fertilizer washes off corn and wheat fields and industrial-sized livestock operations into ditches, streams, tributaries and ultimately the rivers that drain into Lake Erie. The shallow western basin is particularly vulnerable to algae blooms because of its warm waters and average depth of just 24 feet, compared with 62 feet for the entire lake.

And though cities in the watershed have significantly reduced the levels of sewage that reach Lake Erie since the 1970s, a single storm in 2014 revealed how much remains to be done. According to analysis of DEQ data by the Detroit Free Press, 10 billion gallons of sewer overflows emptied into southeastern Michigan waters on Aug. 11, 2014, much of that reaching Lake St. Clair or flowing directly into Lake Erie.

Don Scavia, an aquatic ecologist and director of the University of Michigan’s Graham Sustainability Institute, said he wonders just how much the cleaner the lake can get as long as basic agricultural practices and crops grown in the Lake Erie basin remain as they are.

“One has to ask the question: Are these watersheds so overwhelmed by industrial corn and soybeans operations that we have to change not the just way we grow, but consider the need to grow something different?”

Scavia said changes in farming practices over the decades appear to be a key contributor to the rise in dissolved phosphorus.

Many farmers have turned to no-till growing as a means to slow soil erosion. But instead of churning fertilizer into the ground, where it binds with soil, no-till growing leaves fertilizer on the surface of the soil to be absorbed by the plants. Heavy rains can wash away the fertilizer before it is absorbed.

And as more farms have become industrial operations, it is more common to apply fertilizer in late fall, when the ground is firm enough for large machinery. That fertilizer may still be on the surface when the next hard rain falls, washing it into the lake.

There is evidence as well that invasive species play a role in the spread of toxic blue-green algae, the type that struck Lake Erie in 2011 and 2014.

Researchers say that zebra and quagga mussels, which came from overseas in the late 1980s in the ballast of ships and soon spread through the Great Lakes, boost the spread of this algae. The mussels eat non-toxic green algae, but they avoid blue algae.

That leaves lakes like Lake Erie with disproportionate amounts of blue-green algae. All it needs is a food source – phosphorus – to explode.

To date, efforts to reduce agricultural phosphorus have been almost entirely voluntary.

Carrot or stick

In January, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a grant of $17.5 million to encourage farmers in Ohio, Indiana and Michigan to adopt conservation practices designed to keep nutrients on the field instead of in the lake. The grant is distributed to states based on the amount of land they have within the Lake Erie basin, with Ohio receiving $12.25 million, Michigan $3.15 million and Indiana just over $2 million.

The funds are to be spread over five years, paying farmers to plant cover crops, grow grass buffer barriers, install drainage water management devices and animal waste storage structures and adopt other management practices. But those funds will likely reach only a tiny fraction of the thousands of farmers in the Lake Erie basin.

After years of pressure from environmental groups, Ohio took a step toward telling – rather than asking – farmers what to do on their farms. In April, Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed legislation banning farmers from applying fertilizer to frozen fields, a practice that environmental advocates say will reduce fertilizer runoff.

In 2014, the International Joint Commission, a United States-Canadian water use planning body, issued a recommendation that the province of Ontario as well as Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania and Indiana ban that practice as well. It also recommended:

Stronger agricultural regulatory mechanisms, including tying federal crop insurance to the adoption of conservation practices.

That Ohio and Michigan place Lake Erie on the “impaired” waters list under the Clean Water Act, which would force states in the watershed to find ways to meet more stringent phosphorus limits for the western Lake Erie basin. Enforcement would come from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

That Ontario, Ohio and Pennsylvania prohibit the sale and use of phosphorus fertilizer for lawn care. Michigan banned its use, except for starter lawns, in 2012.

Wurfel, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality spokesman, said in January that Michigan's voluntary approach to agricultural conservation is working. In 2011, Snyder signed two bills into law, expanding a voluntary program to help farmers adopt conservation practices and rewarding those who meet certain standards with less oversight and protection from some legal liabilities.

Wurfel pointed to a state study of Michigan farms in the Lake Erie watershed, that showed farms participating in a voluntary conservation program cut phosphorus use and runoff by about 62,000 pounds from 2011 to 2013. But that’s only about one-third of 1 percent of the average annual total of phosphorus reaching the lake from all sources.

In a statement to Bridge, Wurfel rejected the proposal to declare Lake Erie impaired: “There is no way the state would take that action yet, for three reasons. One, there are no support studies completed that would buttress that determination. Two, Michigan has already done a ton to reduce phosphorus inputs to the lake, and we’re doing more all the time.”

Asked if Michigan should adopt Ohio’s ban of applying fertilizer on frozen fields, Wurfel indicated that Michigan has discouraged that practice for years.

Any attempt to declare Lake Erie impaired seems sure to stir opposition from agricultural and industry industry groups, given the fight over cutting pollution into Chesapeake Bay, which borders Virginia and Maryland and has been plagued by dead zones and algae blooms for years.

In July, a federal appeals court upheld the right of the EPA to establish limits under the Clean Water Act for how much nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment can enter the bay each year. The cleanup plan has been opposed by agriculture groups including the the Fertilizer Institute, the National Pork Producers Council and the American Farm Bureau Federation, which sued the EPA over the issue in 2011.

Lana Pollack, chair of the three-member U.S. delegation on the International Joint Commission, asserted that it is clear that voluntary measures are not enough to clean up Lake Erie. She served as Democratic state senator from 1983 to 1994 and was president of the Michigan Environmental Council from 1996 to 2008.

“We need regulations. Volunteerism alone is not working,” Pollack said.

“We don't let most people decide whether they are going to pollute or not pollute public waters. Although we have industrial farming (in the Lake Erie basin) we have very much this mindset of the old family farmer working a few acres, instead of industrial farm operations with thousands of acres.”

“Ohio has taken some first steps,” she said, referring to its ban on applying fertilizer on frozen ground. “Michigan has not.”

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Tue, 08/04/2015 - 8:05am
We need a soothing Tim Allen radio commercial telling us that algae blooms are just Pure Michigan and everything is alright, no problem here.
Tue, 08/04/2015 - 10:34am
As long as the GOP controls our legislature and governorship (and through gerrymandering it will likely stay that way) nothing will be done. 'Business will be hurt' will be the excuse and besides the GOP hates rules and the environment so...
Thu, 08/20/2015 - 7:54am
Unfortunately there aren't any wealthy residents along the western basin of Lake Erie willing to put up the millions necessary to buffer the watershed. Devos lives on Lake Mac so he has a vested interest in cleaning it up.
Tue, 08/04/2015 - 1:45pm
The truth is phosphorous limits must be set for Lake Erie and all of the threatened and impacted areas of Great Lakes and their tributary rivers, streams and creeks. These navigable waters and their tributaries, as well as tributary watersheds where farming practices and waste treatments take place are subject to a paramount public trust. This public trust stems from US and state court decisions in all Great Lakes states that hold these waters are held by governments in public trust for the benefit of each citizen in each state, as legal beneficiaries, for the protection of basic rights of citizens to use these waters for drinking, sustenance, swimming, fishing, boating, and navigation. Human land and water uses or activities that subordinate or impair these waters and these public trust protected uses that depend on these waters violate the public trust principles and standards. This violation is occurring now and will continue to occur until limits on phosphorous are imposed and enforced. If EPA and Ohio and other states do not agree to an immediate limit, state governments have obligation to do so. If these governments fail to do so, then citizens have a right to demand that they do so to stop and prevent impairment of public trust uses and waters. There should be no more excuses, not more justification for delays. Voluntary actions should continue, but it is time to solve algal blooms' devastating harms to environment, public trust, and economy of the region. The International Joint Commission (IJC) issued an landmark report LEEP Report last year, urging application of public trust principles to supplement other actions. Now is the time to do. For a background of LEEP and the application of public trust principles and the duties and power of government and citizens to address algal blooms in Great Lakes, see FLOW website resource papers, and click on paper submitted to IJC by FLOW on public trust and algal blooms in Lake Erie. We know the causes, farming, sewage overflows or inadequate treatment, and exacerbation from climate changes through warming. We know what needs to be done. We have the legal tools to do it. If it is not done, and done soon, then citizens as legal beneficiaries should ask government and the courts, if necessary, to step in and do it. No one is above the overriding public trust in the waters of the Great Lakes. The public trust can non longer be ignored. Thanks for article, thanks to IJC, thanks to those who take action to do this.
Tue, 08/04/2015 - 3:46pm
Forgive me for a moment but I must be mistaken who Wurfle is employed by: The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is committed to the conservation, protection, management, use and enjoyment of the state's natural and cultural resources for current and future generations. The DNR strives to: Protect natural and cultural resources. Ensure sustainable recreation use and enjoyment. Enable strong natural resource-based economies. Improve and build strong relationships and partnerships. Foster effective business practices and good governance.
Tue, 08/04/2015 - 6:40pm
Has anyone looked at how much fertilizer is poured on golf courses and private residences and parks and and. Farmers can't afford to waste fertilizer - it comes out of their profits. When it was cheap they may have over fertilized, but that is no longer the case. Ideally the plants are taking up the all of the fertilizer, because when it gets washed away, it is "money down the drain" for the farmer. Golf courses, private residences, landscapers don't look at it in the same way - one need only look at Michigan's inland lakes where people have heavily fertilized for their "nice green lawns" to see what over fertilization can do :<( Look beyond the farms for the problem -
Thu, 08/06/2015 - 12:36pm
Hi Tam- You are right, there are many sources of Nonpoint Source nutrient pollution. Lawn care and golf courses are among those. Michigan moved to curb those emissions by limiting phosphorous based fertilizers in 2012. The IJC recommends surrounding governments act similarly (see their second recommendation). We hope they will do so. However, the article states that "Experts identify agriculture as the biggest culprit." This references a National Water Quality Inventory report and other studies that find agriculture is the largest emitter. The EPA uses these studies as its basis for analysis. See . Farmers definitely do monitor their own fertilizer use for both ethical and financial reasons. We want to work with the farmers to find more and better ways to keep that fertilizer on their land, or help "soak up" any that runs off fields before it reaches Lake Erie. There are win-wins out there - farming practices that keep phosphorous on farmer's land also keeps it out of the lakes. The article calls for more aggressive implementation of some of these possibilities.
Leon L. Hulett, PE
Wed, 08/05/2015 - 9:51pm
Ted Roelofs, I have looked at the microcystin toxin part of this, and I think its danger is overstated. The danger is overstated more than a little. In fact, it is overstated multiple times at different levels. We need our own research on how valid the danger of this toxin is in human drinking water. No one in the world has ever died from this toxin in drinking water. This is a seasonal problem, and it is not just seasonal, water was being tested once a week, then daily as algae were reported near the point of being ingested into the water systems. So we are only talking about exposure for one week, or one day. What is the risk with such short intervals of exposure? The world health organization (WHO) data do not recommended the very low "safe levels" they publish and that are used without question by cities. Their data and recommendations are not sensitive to the weekly or daily exposure levels cities experience. After they get data from tests, they error on the side of safety, and say to use a level 100 times lower. Why this factor of 100? This is the first exaggeration. Does their data match an exposure of 1 week or 1 day? No. Actually, cities then again error on the side of safety once again, and seek out tests that are far more sensitive than the WHO tests. So anything they detect at very low levels with such tests is far less toxic than anything WHO imagined would be used. The exaggeration does not stop there. Then they apply carbon treatment and oxygen treatments to reduce the tested levels to non-detect before releasing it as drinking water. That's three levels of exaggeration! And since I know the way carbon treatment is applied it is actually far more than that. Now unfortunately, there was yet one more level of exaggeration. I gave specific names in my comments last year, but Toledo officials released statements saying the water they released could cause such and such types of damage to people. They may have been thinking of levels a thousand times higher, but that is not what they said. They said things in a way that caused hysteria. This issue is being hyped up to a level that does cause hysteria. People drove to other states to buy "clean" water for their children. We need our own tests and data on the toxicity of this material in human drinking water, and that has to be matched to the tests being run, the length of exposure, and the recommendations cities and states should use when treating water, and to base public releases of information on. I think you will find it then becomes a non-issue. I think it will require no additional legislation and it will require far less expensive treatment methods to achieve a much higher level of confidence in the safety of our drinking water. I think it will require far less restriction on the farming methods used in the Great Lakes drainage basin. I hope Bridge will have the wisdom to recommend in this direction, rather than in the direction of continuing the hysteria.
Thu, 08/06/2015 - 1:10pm
Hi Leon, Well stated. I think you focus too much on microcystin toxicity as a major fallout from nutrient pollution. Personally, I am significantly more concerned about the implications for tourism, recreational use, the fishing industry, and hypoxic effects on the local ecology. These are important industries in the Great Lakes region, and even if microcystin impacts ignored, it still remains necessary to treat nutrient runoff seriously. In keeping to your narrower focus on microcystin, we should look at a variety of exposure pathways. Swimming and recreational exposure is likely. Similarly, I am curious how this impacts fish and wildlife, which we may eventually eat ourselves. To look at the WHO report, they state their adjustments are due to "lack of data on chronic toxicity and carcinogenicity." As you note, the WHO is staying safe until more research comes out. While I am unfamiliar with the Toledo water treatment system, it sounds like they are staying safe as well. They are being honest- they have a toxin coming in, but they are monitoring, treating, and assuring us the water is safe to drink. I would rather my water treatment experts remain on their conservative approach. I believe that you are possibly correct that microcystin levels will be a non-issue if we spent sufficient time and money to research it fully, but until then, let's stay safe rather than sorry. In short, I agree the water treatment is likely a very safe approach. Additionally, we may be able to more intelligently treat the water with additional research. I greatly prefer this approach until we have updated data. And most importantly, while research would be good, it would not address the very significant and more important other consequences of nutrient pollution.
Hugh McDiarmid Jr.
Thu, 08/06/2015 - 10:32pm
Even if Mr. Hulett is correct that human health risks are minimal (and I am not conceding that by any means) there still are a host of huge disruptive impacts from excessive algal blooms. It is certainly not a "non-issue" to the sport fishermen, marinas, beachfront resorts, and the chain of downstream businesses (gas stations, groceries, motels, watersports equipment dealers, restaurants, etc.). All it takes is a few critical weeks of pea-soup water and stinking beaches during the short make-or-break tourist season to move their ledgers from black to red. Ask the officials on Pelee Island what the algae did to their 2014 tourism season -- the season that wasn't. We can do better.
Leon L. Hulett, PE
Sun, 08/09/2015 - 10:38am
Hugh McDiarmid Jr., August 6, 2015 at 10:32 pm Thanks for your comment Hugh. Please do not think, or lead people to think, I was addressing the algae bloom more generally as "a non-issue". That is not the case. I was just speaking to what I see as mass hysteria as regards the toxin only, and drinking water safety more specifically. A few simple easy to do tests at Universities I believe, could confirm this, and provide vital feedback to WHO, states and municipalities that do have the responsibility to act on this matter. I feel Bridge, where it provides a leadership role, should lead in positive directions rather than in the direction of hysteria.
Thu, 08/06/2015 - 7:14pm
The term algea bloom is misleading. Mats of cyanobacteria form and release microcystin. It is a bacterial problem. I live next to a river that feeds into Lake Erie and I have seen a significant change in the water quality upstream along with a drop in the water levels. Agricultural irrigation systems draw water from the river at increasing rates. I have walked on the corn fields in the fall and they are as hard as concretel! There has to be accountability for agricultural practices that impact everyone in the region; corn and soybean production on this large scale is out of balance.
Leon L. Hulett, PE
Sun, 08/09/2015 - 4:06pm
Sheila August 6, 2015 at 7:14 pm I agree with you, this is bacteria not algae. Leon
Leon L. Hulett, PE
Sun, 08/09/2015 - 2:56pm
William August 6, 2015 at 1:10 pm Thank you for your supportive comments. But I would like to distinguish a point here, to make things more clear. I am principally talking about hysteria here, irrational thinking, rather than rational thinking about the levels of toxins that might be unsafe. Spending more money and resources to filter already clean and safe water once again, is not a good solution for hysteria and lack of fundamental knowledge. I would not consider this 'safer' in the way you are saying. I would not say that this approach was more 'conservative'. It is just not smart. It does not handle the lack of knowledge and the lack of certainty in a water supply. It does not handle hysteria. It suggests that we live with this lack of knowledge and potential for hysteria instead of taking an easy path to correct one small situation, and then with greater knowledge and certainty address the larger problem. If one believes, or knows, the water to be very safe for swimming and tourism, etc, then that is one thing. If one mistakenly believes the water is so toxic that they must travel to other states to get safe water, then that is another thing. Is it not? If a city official says the water people, and their children, have ingested does produce liver damage, that is one thing. If a person knows the water they have ingested is 1000 times safer than a any level that might cause a minor level of temporary discomfort, then that is quite a different thing, isn't it? No hysteria, even if some nut case does says 'liver destruction', or 'the sky is falling' one knows that could not possibly be true. They would know the nut case was just 'a nut case'. They would know what is right and what is wrong. If you wish to address the implications for tourism, etc., then I suggest a good place to start is by showing what water is very safe, and under what conditions water may be unsafe for this toxin. I think you will find that when the hysteria of this toxin is absent then tourism, fishing, swimming and agriculture will come into perspective again.
Wed, 08/12/2015 - 11:32am
Well let's see here. Farms and farmers, golf courses and such are the culprit, They are large and few and easy to identify and go after. However, when one looks at the millions of defective septic systems that are in the wide area and the effects on water that makes it into creeks and streams and then river that empty into the lake it is a harder nut to crack as they are so many and harder to identify and even harder to enforce. Moreover, one must include the times how many municipal sewer system have 'accidents' and overflows. Where do less than perfect systems discharge? A river or stream? That eventually flows where? One only need look at the numbers of inland lakes and their restrictions on swimming that occur to see the issue only on a smaller yet large numbered scale. Bacteria counts are ongoing everywhere all summer long. Water from lakes and streams and rivers eventually ends up where? Oh, and that phosphorus run off from lawn fertilizer? Anyone tried to buy a bag that contains that product? So, how does it get on lawns? Those accused may have some guilt. However, the half baked, easy determination and lazy response by those studying the issue and their blame is lethargic to the addressing the whole picture. Farms and golf courses are profit driven. They hardly buy and use one pound more than they need as the expense is now great. They realize they are an easy target and are sensitive to the fertilizer uses. No one doubts there is an issue that creates the algae forming. Perhaps the resolution is so daunting from so many small accumulating sources that cherry=picking the few obvious possibilities is the result. I have no interest or involvement in any farming or golf or large area and the use of fertilizers. I do know that most septic systems in the state are defective or deficient from age and lack of maintenance.
Eric B
Wed, 08/19/2015 - 3:53pm
The studies that arrived at these conclusions were extremely thorough, and your statement that this is a "lazy response by those studying the issue" indicates you have not looked at the wealth of research yourself. Significant improvements to septic systems and P composition of detergents, etc., as mandated by the Clean Water Act were part of the reason we saw significant improvements in water quality from ~1970 through ~1995. Recently, the research showed clear linkages between high precipitation events and outwash of P from the major P source: agriculture. Whether they intend to or not, farmers lose much of the applied fertilizer to precipitation; again, this has been heavily studied in Erie's catchment. Nobody denies septic systems and other minor sources play a role, but the idea that farms and golf courses are identified here because they are an easy target is fallacious.
Thu, 08/20/2015 - 3:36pm
Application of phosphorus on residential lawns may be banned in Michigan, but phosphorus fertilizer is still so available that basically this law means nothing. Every hardware store is full of starter fertilizer (which contains phosphorus). There is no enforcement. This means that residential fertilizing controls are just a voluntary and useless as agricultural fertilizing controls.