Lake Erie is facing an increase in the spread of algae, which is a serious threat. The algal blooms consume the oxygen, created dead zones, which threaten the organisms in the lake. Some of these blooms are so toxic that they have killed dogs and sickened swimmers. In 2011, heavy rains resulted in algal blooms that were three times bigger than any previous one.
The main cause of the increased algae in the lake is phosphorus pollution. Phosphorus enters the lake through runoff from phosphorus-based fertilizers. The main contributor to the runoff is farms and lawns.
A United States-Canadian agency was called to implement limits on the use of fertilizer around Lake Erie, in order to reduce the amount of phosphorus pollution. The International Joint Commission proposed a ban on most sales of phosphorus-based lawn fertilizers in Ontario, Ohio and Pennsylvania. It also urged Michigan and Ohio to invoke the Clean Water Act to limit phosphorus from farmland instead of just from factories. The commission’s report stated that the targets previously set by the United States and Canada to reduce Lake Erie’s phosphorus load by 2018 was too low. Overall, the commission’s report urges both legal and voluntary programs to reach large reactions by 2022.
The algal blooms are also a threat to local economies. According to Captain Rick Unger, who operates a charter boat on Lake Erie, “It’s a threat to every business in northern Ohio.” Local markets, especially the fishing market are greatly affected by this. In Ohio alone, fishing is a $1.2 billion industry that could be hit hard by the decease in fish due to the increase in dead zones.
I agree with the commission that setting legal limits or bans on phosphorus-based fertilizers is a good idea. Setting a limit to the amount of fertilizer that can be used on farms that are near the lake could have a significant impact. The government can also heavily tax phosphorus-based fertilizers from the use on lawns, limiting the amount used and forcing people to buy other more eco-friendly fertilizers. I also think amending the Clean Water Act to include farms could lower their pollution output as a whole, as well as phosphorus pollution. I believe legislation needs to be put in place along with taxes in order to reduce the amount of phosphorus pollution within the near future, hopefully by 2022, as the commission proposed.