89.1 WEMU

1st Friday Focus On The Environment: 2015 Challenges To The Health Of The Great Lakes

Feb 6, 2015

Lisa Wozniak, Executive Director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters and Host of 89.1 WEMU's 1st Friday Focus on the Environment
Credit Michigan League of Conservation Voters / www.mlcv.org

With 2015 just getting underway, the list of challenges facing the health and sustainability of the Great Lakes continues to grow. In WEMU's '1st Friday Focus on the Environemnt', host Lisa Wozniak will explore those issues and try and identify solutions. Listen below. 


NUTRIENT POLLUTION AND CyanoHABs in LAKE ERIE, GREAT LAKES

TOPLINES

·        Lake Erie is sick. Excess nutrients and subsequent algal blooms in the lake are an ongoing problem.

·        Nutrient pollution, which fuels the growth of massive harmful algal blooms (Cyanobacterial Harmful Algal Blooms), is a danger to public health, our environment, and the Great Lakes region’s economy.

·        This summer’s massive algal bloom in Lake Erie created a harmful toxin called microcystin that contaminated the water and made it unsafe to drink or use for an entire weekend — impacting more than 400,000 residents in Michigan and Ohio.

·        Individuals who come into contact with microcystin can suffer minor skin irritation, gastrointestinal discomfort and in severe (and also very rare) cases, acute liver failure if water is ingested.

·        Because Lake Erie is the shallowest and the warmest of the Great Lakes, it is particularly susceptible to eutrophication (algal growth in the water column due to excessive nutrients) and climate change.

·        With climate change comes warmer weather (which is speeding up algal growth) and greater frequency and intensity of flooding events (flushing even greater amounts of phosphorous into the water from soil)

·        Point sources of excess nutrients and solutions to the eutrophication problem are different from those that saved the lake in the 70’s — the biggest source at that time was sewage runoff. Contributions of phosphorous are now largely the result of runoff from urban and agricultural land,

·        CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) produce enormous amounts of manure, which contains high levels of phosphorous.

·        The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit program aims to limit discharges such as phosphorous, but as Toledo’s water crisis demonstrated — there is a need for a stronger permitting program.

·        The practice of allowing application of manure on frozen and snow-covered ground is a major cause of runoff and water degradation, and it is a source of additional loading of nutrients in soils.

·        Michigan’s unique position as a key state surrounded by the Great Lakes highlights the importance of getting permitting for CAFOS right, and proving that greater steps are taken to protect water quality.

·        The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is undergoing a revision of permitting for CAFOs and Michigan’s environmental community is advocating for stronger regulations that will protect our Great Lakes from pollution.

·        Recently, 9 groups including Michigan League of Conservation Voters signed on to a formal letter requesting that manure application on frozen ground and snow-covered ground should be banned to eliminate risk of phosphorous runoff.

MORE BACKGROUND IN RESEARCH AND THE PRESS

In-depth Milwaukee Journal Sentinel feature on nutrient pollution and HABs, specifically in Lake Erie

IJC Report on Lake Erie and its algae problems

Circle of Blue comprehensive story on what happened in Toledo

Press Release on CAFOs and Great Lakes 

Background on factory farms and nutrient pollution

Background on Blue-green algae

More Background on Blue-green algae

Ongoing research on Harmful Algae Blooms by NOAA