EPA funding takes aim at Lake Erie algal blooms

Staff Report

CHICAGO — U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced the award of Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) funds totaling more than $3.1 million to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Geological Survey, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to target harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie.

This new Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding will be used to expand ongoing efforts to reduce the amount of phosphorus entering Lake Erie and to improve our ability to detect and forecast outbreaks of harmful algae,” said Susan Hedman, EPA regional administrator/Great Lakes National Program manager. “EPA is making this funding available now so that priority projects can be implemented before the next algae season.”

In August 2014, EPA met with state and federal agencies to identify priority actions to reduce harmful algal blooms in the western Lake Erie basin. Sept. 3, 2014, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, who is chairman of the federal interagency task force that oversees the GLRI, announced that up to $12 million would be made available to state and federal agencies for projects identified during the August meeting. Grants totaling $8.6 million were awarded to the states of Ohio, Indiana and Michigan in October to implement many of these projects.

As we learned from this summer’s drinking water crisis, we ignore threats to our precious Great Lakes at our peril,” said U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan. “These grants highlight the importance of the GLRI in combating this and other threats to the lakes.”

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, added: “The Great Lakes are critical to Michigan’s economy and our way of life. Michigan farmers play a critical role in improving water quality in Lake Erie, and this funding will help farmers use conservation management tools to protect the soil and water. Today’s announcement further underscores the urgent need to address threats to water quality, and the importance of partnerships like the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which invests in the health of our Great Lakes and waterways.”

U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Michigan, said: “The rise of harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie is an environmental crisis that deserves our attention and demands immediate action, and I’m happy to see this additional funding made available. Not only do we have an obligation to preserve the Great Lakes for future generations, but the American people deserve peace of mind in knowing they always will have safe water to drink. I look forward to continuing to do all I can to work with the agency and all levels of government to help combat these harmful occurrences.”

GLRI funding will be provided to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (approximately $1 million) and the U.S. Geological Survey (approximately $900,000) to improve harmful algal bloom forecasting and water quality testing. The Natural Resources and Conservation Service will receive funding (approximately $1 million) to expand financial assistance for agricultural conservation practices in the Western Lake Erie Basin. The award to the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (approximately $197,000) will supplement a GLRI grant awarded to the agency in October to improve nutrient management on Michigan farms.

This additional GLRI funding will increase NOAA’s capacity to monitor and forecast Harmful Algal Blooms,” Director Deborah Lee of NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab said. “Providing coastal communities with critical information to protect drinking water supplies and recreate safely, while improving information to potentially reduce future bloom events.”

USGS Midwest Regional Director Leon Carl said: “Understanding nutrient loads to Lake Erie from tributaries is essential to modeling, predicting and mitigating harmful algal blooms that have been occurring in the western Lake Erie Basin. The USGS is uniquely qualified to collect and interpret nutrient data in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana using our established streamflow gauging station network.”

Chief Jason Weller of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service said: “Voluntary, incentive-based conservation on private lands has a critical role to play in improving water quality in the Great Lakes basin. Farmers and livestock producers in the region have stepped up their conservation efforts, but we know that more can be done. This partnership enables us to continue voluntary work with producers, delivering technical and financial assistance to implement key conservation practices, such as planting cover crops, limiting tillage, and improving nutrient management, all of which help provide cleaner water in the Great Lakes basin.”

MDARD Director Jamie Clover Adams added: “Preserving our water resources is a priority for Michigan’s agricultural community. Providing farmers with hands-on opportunities to better understand the land-to-lake connection helps increase adoption of conservation practices to protect Lake Erie. The funding will also allow implementation of nutrient management plans on farms in the basin, helping to further reduce the possible agriculture-related impacts.”

In early August, the city of Toledo issued a “do not drink” order for almost 500,000 people in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan when a drinking water treatment plant was adversely impacted by microcystin, a toxin generated by a harmful algal bloom in western Lake Erie. In addition to generating toxins that pose risks to human health, harmful algal blooms contribute to low-oxygen “dead zones” in the deeper waters of Lake Erie and harm shoreline economies.

The GLRI was launched in 2010 to accelerate efforts to protect and restore the largest system of fresh surface water in the world. GLRI resources are used to strategically target the biggest threats to the Great Lakes ecosystem. GLRI resources have been used to double the acreage enrolled in agricultural conservation programs in the western Lake Erie, Saginaw Bay and Green Bay watersheds, where nutrient runoff contributes to harmful algal blooms.

The recently released GLRI Action Plan lays out a strategy for increased federal efforts to reduce agricultural and urban runoff in these three priority watersheds during 2015-2019. Information about the GLRI is available at http://www.glri.us/.

More about the GLRI funding is available at http://www.epa.gov/greatlakes/glri.

From the Jan. 7-13, 2015, issue

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