Lake Erie Toxic Algae Bloom Seen as Worst in Decades
by Sandy Bihn
Lake Erie 2011 is going down in the history books as the worst year for excess algae in decades—maybe ever. The algae was so bad that boat motors were slowed while driving through the algae. This was happening east of Lake Erie’s islands and into Canada in open water eight miles or more from shore. The algae went all the way past Cleveland to nearly Pennsylvania on Lake Erie’s southern shore and east to Pelee Island in Ontario. The satellite images showed the massive bright green algal blooms covering about two thirds of Lake Erie’s western and central basins.
Lake Erie has been experiencing growing algae and microcystis problems, also known as harmful algal blooms since 2003 with Heidelberg University data showing a steady increase in soluble reactive phosphorous since 1995. The nutrients which fuel algae growth are carbon, nitrogen and phosphorous. Of these three nutrients, phosphorus is the smallest in quantity but the easiest to control. In the 1980s, reductions in phosphorous discharges in wastewater plants and the banning of phosphorous in laundry detergent, along with the elimination of other toxic discharges, have created a healthier Lake Erie.
Excess algae creates many problems, including increases in water treatment costs, decreases in tourism, increases in catfish and carp, and decreases in walleye, perch and bass. The algae impacts human and animal health with many beaches posting advisory signs from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources advising, “Algal toxins at this location are unsafe, swimming and wading are not recommended. Do not ingest the water and avoid surface scum.”
Lake Erie is not alone in its struggle with too many nutrients causing too much algae. Weather changes such as increased temperatures, heavy rainfalls and severe winds increase the likelihood of harmful algae. Other bodies of water in the U.S. that struggle with algae problems include Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay, Wisconsin’s Lake Champlain, Michigan’s Saginaw Bay, Ohio’s Grand Lake St. Marys and the Gulf of Mexico.
In Lake Erie, more than 40 percent of the phosphorous comes from the Maumee River and 40 percent comes from the Detroit River. The rest of Lake Erie’s tributaries and outfalls contribute a little less than 20 percent.
According to a recently released U.S. Geological Survey study, more than 70 percent of the phosphorous in the Cuyahoga River comes from wastewater treatment plants. The largest phosphorous loads going into the Detroit River and Maumee River, and other Lake Erie tributaries, come from farm runoff, liquid manure runoff, wastewater treatment plant discharges, combined sewer overflows, storm water, lawn fertilizer and failing septic systems. There is also concern that sediment buildup in the lake may have phosphorous that is being resuspended in storms.
The largest single source of phosphorous in the 1970s was the Detroit wastewater plant and it is very likely that it still remains one of Lake Erie’s biggest problems. The Detroit wastewater plant is the single largest wastewater plant in the U.S., and its major outfall is on the southern end of the Detroit River and flows right into Lake Erie.
In the summer of 2011, the plant had trouble getting rid of sewage sludge and thousands of tons of sludge — which is used as fertilizer on fields—spewed into Lake Erie. In addition, the Detroit wastewater plant had more than 30 billion gallons of combined sewer overflows into Lake Erie this summer—far more than Ohio’s Lake Erie wastewater plants combined.
According to Ohio Sea Grant Director Jeff Reutter, we need to decrease phosphorous entering Lake Erie by about two-thirds, like we did in the 1980’s when Lake Erie became the comeback lake.
The five easiest ways to reduce phosphorous in Lake Erie include the following:
• The Detroit wastewater discharge permit is up for renewal in 2012. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine should intervene in the 2012 permit requiring the plant to reduce plant phosphorous discharges and to stop dumping raw and partially treated sewage into Ohio’s Lake Erie waters.
• Ohio allows liquid manure and fertilizer to be applied to frozen ground. Ohio is banning this practice in the Grand Lake St. Marys watershed and Lake Erie needs to do the same. The practice of using taxpayers’ money to truck liquid manure out of the Grand Lake St. Marys watershed into the Lake Erie watershed needs to end.
• There needs to be targeted reductions of phosphorous from agricultural runoff in targeted streams and rivers. A recent report by the U.S. Geological Survey suggests that the Auglaize, Blanchard, Tiffin and Sandusky Rivers might be good rivers to target for reduction in agricultural runoff.
• Open lake dumping of dredged sediments from the Toledo shipping channel resuspends nutrients and increases turbidity that aids in algae growth. The dredged sediments should be placed in a created eco-island to provide habitat for fish spawning grounds.
• Phosphorous in mature lawn fertilizers has been banned in many states across the country, including Michigan. Ohio should do the same. Ohio-based Scotts Fertilizer is voluntarily taking phosphorous out of mature lawn fertilizer in 2012. It seems simple and practical to require the same of all fertilizers in Ohio.
The Lake Erie Improvement Association has brought together Lake Erie fishermen, boaters, businesses, property owners, tourists and people who get their drinking water from Lake Erie. This collaboration of stakeholders is the same model that was used to help improve the water quality at Grand Lake St. Marys that created a healthier environment, recreational opportunities and tourism revenue.
For more information, call Sandy Bihn at 419-691- 3788 or visit www.lakeerieimprovement.org.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Zahida Sherman
Falling in Love With Food All Over Again<p>Slowly, through my most intimate relationships with friends and partners, I began to see the beauty — and rewards — of cooking.</p><p>I got tired of giving in to defeat and always bringing chips or paper products to social gatherings. I started asking my mom to send me her Christmas and Thanksgiving recipes. I even volunteered to host Thanksgiving dinner at my place.</p><p>Each time I heard my loved ones sing the praises of the foods I prepared for them, I felt a tinge more confident that I could carry out our traditions my way.</p><p>In reaching out to other relatives for their favorite recipes, I learned that they had a little help of their own. They didn't rely solely on their ancestral cooking instincts. They turned to Black chefs for guidance.</p><p>These 7 cookbooks by Black chefs have inspired my family and fed us in nutrients, joy, and spiritual sustenance. They're also helping me overcome my personal fears of cooking.</p>
Get CookingWhether you're in recovery from cooking fears like me, or are just looking to expand your culinary confidence with dishes honoring Black heritage, these Black chefs are here to support you on your journey.Turn on some music, give yourself permission to make mistakes, and throw down for yourself or your loved ones. Glorious flavors await you.
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By Tara Lohan
The History<p>The Middle Fork Nooksack drains glacier-fed headwater streams that run off the icy summit of 10,778-foot Mt. Baker. The Middle Fork joins the North Fork and then the mainstem of the Nooksack River, which travels to Bellingham Bay and Puget Sound. The entire Nooksack watershed stretches 830 square miles across Washington and into British Columbia.</p>
A Plan Comes Together<p>The Middle Fork dam is not a pool dam built for water storage. Much of the time, water flows over the top until dam operators drop a floodgate to divert water to new locations. That water travels about 14 miles through tunnel and pipeline to Mirror Lake, then Anderson Creek, and to Lake Whatcom before finally being delivered to residents' taps.</p><p>Before removing the dam, engineers had to move the water intake 700 feet upstream and situate it at an elevation that still enabled city water withdrawals throughout the year, regardless of flow conditions.</p><p>They also needed to make sure that the rushing water didn't sweep up fish and accidentally send them through the water-supply system.</p><p>"The solution required a fairly complex design in the intake structure, including a fish exit pipe out of that structure to put fish back into the river in a way that meets current environmental permit standards," explains LaCroix.</p>
Restoration Success<p>Despite local authorities' championing dam removal on the Middle Fork, the project has largely flown under the radar, overshadowed in the Pacific Northwest by heated discussions about a much larger potential project — removing <a href="https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/feds-reject-removal-of-4-snake-river-dams-in-key-report/" target="_blank">four federal hydroelectric dams on the lower Snake River</a>, a major tributary of the Columbia River.</p><p>Proponents of dam removal there see it as the best chance for recovering threatened salmon populations, including Chinook, which could help starving Southern Resident killer whales. Those dams also provide irrigation water, barge navigation and hydropower, so there's been more pushback against removal efforts.</p><p>Previous dam removals around the country, however, have proved successful at aiding fish recovery and river restoration.</p><p>Most notably the 1999 demolition of <a href="https://therevelator.org/edwards-dam-removal/" target="_blank">Edwards Dam on Maine's Kennebec River</a> restored the annual run of alewives, a type of herring essential to the food web. The fish run has gone from zero to 5 million in the two decades since dam removal. Blueback herring, striped bass, sturgeon and shad have also extended their reach. And the resurgence has brought back osprey, bald eagles and other wildlife, too.</p><p>The overwhelming success of river restoration on the Kennebec helped to spur a nationwide dam removal movement that's now seen 1,200 dams come down since 1999. Last year a record <a href="https://www.americanrivers.org/conservation-resource/a-record-26-states-removed-dams-in-2019/" target="_blank">90 dams</a> were removed in 26 states, including <a href="https://therevelator.org/cleveland-forest-dam-removal/" target="_blank">20 dams in California's Cleveland National Forest</a>.</p>
Benefits on the Middle Fork Nooksack<p>McEwan hopes to see a similar outcome on the Middle Fork.</p><p>Like the Elwha the Middle Fork Nooksack is a relatively pristine river with little development, and dam removal is expected to provide a big boost to fish. The additional miles of spawning habitat are important, but so is the temperature of that water.</p><p>The dam removal will open access to cold upstream waters, which are ideal for salmon and getting harder to come by as climate change warms waters and reduces mountain runoff.</p><p>"This is really great for the climate change resiliency for these species," says McEwan.</p><p>Steelhead will get back 45% of their historic habitat in the river, and scientists expect Chinook populations to increase in abundance by 31%.</p><p>That <em>could</em> help Southern Resident killer whales.</p><p>"When you get to the ocean, it's a little bit of a black box in terms of what you can model and say definitively is going to help, but more fish is better for orcas," McEwan says.</p><p>Upstream habitat will see benefits, too.</p><p>Oceangoing fish like salmon enrich their bodies with carbon and nitrogen while at sea. When they return to their natal rivers to spawn and die, the marine-derived nutrients they carry back upriver become important food and fertilizer for both riverine and terrestrial ecosystems — aiding everything from trees to birds to bears.</p><p>"Once the fish start making their way back, it will start changing the whole ecological system," says Delgado.</p><p><span></span>But any ecological benefit from salmon restoration, either in the ocean or the upper watershed, won't be immediate.<br></p><p>"The population of salmon on the Middle Fork is so low that we expect it's going to take quite a while to rebound," she says. "But the big picture is that what's good for salmon is good for the region — our history and our destiny are intricately intertwined."</p><p>After decades of work, that process of restoration has finally begun.</p>
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By Katie Howell
By Manuela Callari
Building an Ocean Seahorse Destination<p>Seahorses are found in tropical and temperate coastal water worldwide, but are most abundant around Australia, China and the Philippines. </p><p>Trade in the tiny creatures is strictly regulated because of their use in traditional medicine, aquariums and their sale as dried curios. But because they are poor swimmers and cannot easily move elsewhere, habitat loss is a particular threat for these curious animals. </p><p>Seahorses wrap their tails around seagrass and corals to avoid being carried away on currents. They use the habitat to spawn and hide from predators such as crabs, while also feeding on riches of plankton and small crustaceans living in the reef.</p><p><span></span>Where corals aren't available, <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/aqc.1217" target="_blank">scientists</a> found seahorses taking up residence in fishing nets and old crab traps abandoned at the bottom of the ocean. </p>
Mixing With the Locals<p>Baby seahorse mortality is high in the wild because they are easily caught, so those bred in the protected environment of the aquarium weren't ready to be released into the wild until early May.</p><p>The team released 90 new arrivals into Sydney Harbor, placing some directly into the purpose-built hotels, and others onto a net that wild seahorses had already settled on.</p><p>Before setting them free, the researchers marked each young seahorse with a fluorescent tag with unique IDs inserted just beneath the skin to track how they get on in the different environments. </p><p>"The most exciting part was being able to put these animals into the wild and then go back a month later and still see them surviving and growing," said McCracken. </p><p>The seahorses will be old enough to mate and reproduce around October or November 2020. And researchers hope that by then, they will be able to breed with the wild population. </p>
Building a Global Seahorse Hotel Chain<p>With seahorses everywhere facing the loss of their coral reef homes, similar projects have sprung up in places like Greece and South Africa, home to the world's most endangered seahorse, the Knysna seahorse. </p><p>"The endangered South African seahorse is benefiting from something quite similar, even though it wasn't intentional," said Peter Teske, professor at the Department of Zoology, University of Johannesburg.</p><p>In the South African <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/322649251_An_endangered_seahorse_selectively_chooses_an_artificial_structure" target="_blank">case</a>, seahorses have bedded down in "Reno mattresses" — wire cages filled with rocks — that were used to build a new marina. Researchers from NGO Knysna Basin Project found the structures acted as a refuge for the animals.<span></span></p><p><span></span>While Teske describes the seahorse hotels as "a positive news story" and a great way to create public awareness of conservation, he added that establishing artificial habitats in some areas will only prevent the extinction of local populations.</p><p>"For a complete recovery, it is necessary to give the natural habitat a chance to regenerate," said the seahorse expert. </p>
Underwater Mascot<p>In Australia, the researchers hope the project could provide an opportunity to raise awareness not only of the plight of the Sydney seahorses but the other animals with which it shares its ocean habitat.</p><p>The waters around Sydney and the east coast are rich in biodiversity and include several threatened species like the weedy seadragon — a relative of the seahorse — and the grey nurse shark. Like the seahorse, they're also under pressure from pollution, ocean traffic and habitat loss through storms and coastal construction. </p><p>"It's a good thing to get people's support and interest. The seahorses are a useful vehicle to get people concerned if the harbor is in trouble," said David Booth, professor of marine ecology at the University of Technology Sydney who is also working on the project. </p><p>The hotels have become an attraction for divers hoping to catch a glimpse of these small but near mythical creatures. </p><p>"Everyone loves seahorses," added Booth, "they are so popular." </p>
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