Michigan depts. release plan to cut Lake Erie phosphorus

Algal bloom | EPA via Flickr Public Domain

This week, Michigan’s three environmental departments released the state’s targeted plan to reduce phosphorus in Lake Erie by 40% over the next five years.

Michigan’s departments of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) and Natural Resources (DNR) collaborated on the effort, which they are calling the draft Michigan Lake Erie Adaptive Management Plan.

“While we have made some progress, such as reducing phosphorus loads from wastewater treatment plants, there is a lot more work that needs to be done,” said EGLE Director Liesl Clark. “Reaching our goal of a healthy Lake Erie is going to take some time. Using the Adaptive Management Plan, we can evaluate our progress along the way and adjust as we go to make sure the Lake Erie Domestic Action Plan is completed properly and protects public health and the environment.”

The draft Adaptive Management Plan builds of the 2018 Michigan Lake Erie Domestic Action Plan (DAP), which was developed by the state as a roadmap toward a healthier Lake Erie in conjunction with surrounding states and jurisdictions.

Gov. signs measure aimed at reducing Lake Erie phosphorus

The new plan would act as a companion to that previous document. It would provide the water quality status of Michigan’s portion of Lake Erie, a list of actions to be taken by the state in order to achieve optimal nutrient reduction targets, and Michigan’s progress on reaching those targets.

With the two plans in place, state department leaders believe they can reduce 40% of the phosphorus in Lake Erie by 2025.

Satellite Image of a Harmful Algal Bloom in Lake Erie in 2011 | GAO via Flickr Public Domain

Significant algal blooms, caused by excessive amounts of phosphorus and nitrogen, have been a big problem in the Western Lake Erie Basin in recent years. Left untreated, the blooms can harm native aquatic species and even affect nearby drinking water systems.

Their reappearance in Lake Erie is thought to be caused by a combination of invasive species, nutrient pollution caused by manufacturing and agriculture runoff, the lake’s particularly warm, shallow waters and the worsening impacts of climate change in the Great Lakes.

“Michigan is surrounded by freshwater, and it is our job to take care of this resource, especially in the western Lake Erie Basin where harmful algal blooms affect public health and our economy,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in the release. “In June, I recommitted to reducing phosphorus in Lake Erie by 40 percent by 2025. It’s going to be a challenge to make the needed improvements to hit that commitment, but I will continue to push the state and our regional counterparts to use all the best management practices available to meet this challenge.”

EGLE’s Water Resources Division is accepting public comments about the plan through March 24. Comments can be submitted via mail, email, in-person and by calling into the DNR’s public webinar on March 19.