Environmental Defence unveils plan to fight Great Lakes algae

An environmental organization has come up with a four-point plan on how to stop algal blooms from blanketing the Great Lakes.

Toledo water ban was result of toxins from algae earlier this month

This satellite image provided by NOAA shows the algae bloom on Lake Erie in 2011 which according to NOAA was the worst in decades. The algae growth is fed by phosphorus mainly from farm fertilizer runoff and sewage treatment plants, leaving behind toxins that have contributed to oxygen-deprived dead zones where fish can't survive. The toxins can kill animals and sicken humans. Ohio's fourth-largest city, Toledo, told residents late Saturday Aug. 2, 2014 not to drink from its water supply that was fouled by toxins possibly from algae on Lake Erie. (AP Photo/NOAA) (NOAA/Associated Press)

An environmental organization has come up with a four-point plan on how to stop algal blooms from blanketing the Great Lakes. 

The report called Clean, Not Green: Tackling Algal Blooms in the Great Lakes was unveiled in Kingsville, Ont., Wednesday, southeast of Windsor.

“The Great Lakes supply drinking water for millions of people, and are critical to Ontario’s fishing, boating and tourism industries,” said Nancy Goucher, water program manager with Environmental Defence. “Allowing them to be covered in green slime every summer is simply not an option.”

The plan includes suggestions on finding creative ways to pay farmers to stop nutrient pollution that drains into the water. 

Environmental Defence is pushing for the Ontario government to start looking into "market mechanisms such as tax-shifting, pollution taxes, and nutrient trading to transfer money from undesirable acts like polluting to desirable ones that reward farmers for “doing the right thing”."

“Our plan is about giving farmers the tools and financial resources they need to help reduce their nutrient runoff in the lake,” said Environmental Defence’s Goucher. “Reducing the amount of phosphorus in the lake will have a huge impact on the size and frequency of algal blooms in the future.”

The report also makes recommendations for for creating "water-smart communities and citizens," which would include filtering pollutants from water before it reaches the lake. 

“Collectively, we need to increase the scale and intensity of existing programs targeting non-point sources of phosphorus and other pollution, rather than establishing new ones,” said Richard Wyma, General Manager for the Essex Region Conservation Authority. “We’re on the right track — we just need to do more.” 

The report also calls for more money to be allocated to scientific research that could allow us to better understand the sources of phosphorous and how to stop it from washing into lakes. 

Algae contamination leads to water ban 

A sample glass of Lake Erie water is photographed near the City of Toledo water intake crib on Aug. 3, 2014. About 400,000 people in the region were told to avoid drinking tap water after tests suggested it was contaminated with toxins from blue-green algae. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari) (Haraz N. Ghanbari/Associated Press)

One of the latest algae problems arose earlier this month when blooms in Lake Erie forced thousands of people in Ohio and Michigan to go without tap water.

For several days, residents were warned not to use city water after tests at one treatment plant showed readings for microcystin above the standard for consumption, most likely from algae on Lake Erie.

The contamination did not affect the water on the Canadian side of the border. 

According to Environmental Defence blooms happen when algae-microscopic, plant-like organisms grow out of control, with the main culprit behind the blooms being phosphorus runoff. 

“Because we live on a peninsula with Lake Erie as our southern boundary, the lake’s health has a major impact on all of us in Windsor and Essex County. It goes without saying that we are all concerned about keeping the lake healthy,” said Glenn Stresman, executive director of the Windsor Essex Community Foundation. “The problem the algal bloom caused with Toledo’s water purification system is indeed a wake up call for us.” 

Green water could keep tourists away

In this Aug. 21, 2013 photo, a dredge barge works along the edge of a large algae bloom in the Toledo shipping channel in Toledo, Ohio. Toxins from the algae blooms on western Lake Erie are infiltrating water treatment plants along the shoreline, forcing cities to spend a lot more money to make sure their drinking water is safe. (D'Arcy Egan/Plain Dealer/Associated Press)

There is some concern the blooms could stop tourists from wanting to spend time near Lake Erie, which could also have an impact on local tourism revenues. 

Approximately 40 million people live around the Great Lakes. About 73 million tourists visited the Great Lakes in Ontario in 2010. About $12.3 billion was injected into the economy by those tourists.

Two years ago, the Essex Region Conservation Authority produced this educational video on algae:

On mobile? Watch the video here.


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