Advance Notice: Briefs

Gov. signs measure aimed at reducing Lake Erie phosphorus

By: - June 20, 2019 3:48 pm

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, May 18, 2019 | Andrew Roth

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive directive Thursday that outlines how Michigan agencies will work to meet their goal of reducing phosphorus levels in Lake Erie by 40% within the next six years.

Michigan, Ohio, and the Canadian province of Ontario have set that target in order to cut back on toxic algae blooms, like the one that prompted a two-day tap water shutoff in 2014 for 400,000 people across Southeast Michigan and parts of Ohio.

Michigan, Ohio, Ontario to cut Lake Erie phosphorus to stave off algae blooms


“The Great Lakes are our most precious resource here in Michigan, and we must protect them for generations to come,” Whitmer said in a statement. “When we build on the work that is already taking place towards reducing phosphorus runoff into the Western Lake Erie Basin, we will reach our goal of achieving a 40 percent reduction in phosphorus to address toxic algal blooms.”

It says the new measures are “necessary to allow Michigan to fully contribute to meeting the larger ecosystem goals established” under the agreement with Ontario and Ohio.The directive compels the heads of the various state agencies that deal with water, resource and environmental regulations to reduce phosphorus loads from the Detroit River, River Raisin and Maumee rivers — all of which function as tributaries into Lake Erie.

Phosphorous is the main ingredient in the synthetic and natural fertilizers the region’s farmers use to speed up crop growth. Those fertilizers, however, flow downstream into rivers and lakes during heavy rainfall, boosting toxic algae growth.

In the directive, Whitmer also ordered state agencies to determine whether any other policies or actions may be needed to meet the 2025 cleanup goal.

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Michael Gerstein
Michael Gerstein

Michael Gerstein is a former Advance reporter covering the Governor's office, criminal justice and the environment.