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Lake Erie shoreline

Agriculture, Environmentalists Come Together On Lake Erie

Gongwer News Service, Michigan Report
Volume #56, Report #202 -- Monday, October 16, 2017

A diverse set of stakeholders including the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and Ducks Unlimited are forming a coalition that seeks to improve water quality in the western Lake Erie Basin.

Groups including Agriculture, the Department of Environmental Quality, the Michigan Farm Bureau, Ducks Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy and the University of Michigan Water Center, among others, announced the formation of the Michigan Cleaner Lake Erie Through Action and Research on Monday.

Leaders of the coalition said its membership is nontraditional and unique, and shows all sides of the issue coming together in an attempt to solve the ongoing algae bloom and water quality issues in Lake Erie.

Agriculture Director Jamie Clover Adams said during a conference call with reporters that the MI CLEAR coalition will bring a more coordinated perspective to existing efforts.

The western basin of Lake Erie, the smallest and shallowest Great Lake, extending from Monroe County to east of Toledo has been plagued in recent years by algae overgrowth that at one time caused a drinking water crisis in Toledo

There are, officials said, several potential factors leading to the water quality issues in the western Lake Erie Basin. Those include:

· Zebra mussels and other invasive species that have led to clearer water, allowing sunlight to penetrate deeper and increasing algae growth;

· Larger rainfall events happening more reliably each year, which push stormwater and large amounts of untreated sewage into the water;

· Geography (nutrient-rich water flows into Lake Erie from many states and Canada):

· Municipal sewer inputs, industrial pollution, faulty septic systems, lawn applications of fertilizers in residential neighborhoods and on golf courses, farm manure and fertilizer runoff, extreme weather patterns in recent years, and others.

Ms. Adams said while the agriculture community recognizes its role in the issue, there is no one single cause to the water quality problems.

“We will drive support for research that builds understanding of the science around water quality issues, and promote actions that bring long-term, meaningful changes,” Ms. Adams said.

Chris Sebastian, with Ducks Unlimited, said the group believes preserving the wetlands in the area is the answer. He said wetlands serve a “kidney-like” function for the lake.

He added 90 percent of the wetlands around the basin have been lost. Mr. Sebastian said as a science-based organization, it is excited to share everything it learns with the group.

“This problem began decades ago, and addressing it requires significant time and work before we start to see algae reductions,” he said. “As members of the MI CLEAR Partnership, we look forward to sharing the work our organization has done in the region into the broader ‘knowledge map’ the group is developing.”

Jennifer Read, the director of the University of Michigan Water Center, said current studies range from the edge of farm fields to understanding what happens in the open lake and the impact of climate change.

She said the issue is complex and cannot be simply blamed on the agriculture community.

“There is a range of things that come into play. We need to keep that in mind,” she said.

Read more about CLEAR at this link.