Advance Notice: Briefs

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

By: - June 17, 2019 2:50 pm

Horacio Romero of Toledo, Ohio looks at algae in Lake Erie at Maumee Bay State Park August 4, 2014 in Oregon, Ohio. Toledo, Ohio area residents were once again able to drink tap water after a two day ban due to algae related toxins. | Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images

Michigan, Ohio and Ontario, Canada, have agreed to slash the amount of phosphorous flowing into the Western Lake Erie Basin 40% by 2025, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office announced Friday.

The target is meant to cut back on toxic algae blooms like the one that prompted a two-day tap water shutoff in 2014 for 400,000 people in Toledo, Ohio, and parts of Southeast Michigan.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer | Casey Hull

The agreement aims for a 20% reduction as soon as 2020.

Phosphorous is the main ingredient in synthetic and natural fertilizers that helps farmers grow crops for animal feed or human consumption faster than they otherwise could. But the substance washes from farms during heavy rainfall, flowing downstream into rivers and lakes and boosts toxic algae growth in addition to other plant life.

This summer’s expected algae bloom could be even worse than in previous years, Whitmer said in a statement.

“We must push for increased efforts to gauge our progress in meeting the reductions and continue to address harmful algal blooms so that we’re able to protect our Great Lakes for generations to come,” the governor continued.

GOP Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said in a statement that he has made protecting Lake Erie “a priority of my administration” and praised the agreement with Ontario and Michigan “in reaffirming our commitment to reduce phosphorus loadings” into Lake Erie’s western basin.

An April report from the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that more than a hundred farms in Southeast Michigan may be contributing to Lake Erie phosphorus pollution, as the Michigan Advance previously reported.

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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.