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Lake Erie Declared ‘Impaired Waterway’ After Algae Bloom

Nov 22 | 2016  by

By Beth Florkowski of Fausone Bohn, LLP posted in Environmental Law on Tuesday, November 22, 2016.

Paul Bohn, Esq.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has ruled a small section of Lake Erie an “impaired waterway” as a result of green slime of algae blooms. The algae in the lake has been a problem in recent decades as it previously cut off drinking water to 400,000 Toledo residents just two years ago.

Algae blooms are the result of an abundance of nitrogen and phosphorus in the water. Large increases in algae harm water quality, food resources and habitats, and decrease oxygen that fish and other aquatic life need to survive.

The 2% of the lake that falls under this impaired waterway designation is under Michigan jurisdiction. Because the water does not meet Michigan water quality standards, the impaired waterway designation is required by the Clean Water Act. This can result in stricter pollution controls, but Michigan officials said they are not seeking those for the time being and are using this designation to send a symbolic message about agreements in place to control phosphorus runoff, mainly from livestock manure and farming fertilizer.

Of course, there are still opponents to the designation and the implications that come along with it. President of the Michigan Agri-Business Association, Jim Byrum, opposed the designation stating that it, “… does nothing to advance our understanding of current problems in Lake Erie, instead relying on the blunt force of government regulation in a misguided attempt to solve a very complex problem.

Earlier this year, U.S. and Canadian governments agreed to reduce phosphorus runoff in Lake Erie by 40% within two years. This will primarily be reached by preventing municipal sewage treatment plant overflows and encouraging farmers to take measures to stop the flow of manure and fertilizers into rivers that lead to Lake Erie.

Scientists have reported that sewage treatment plants and failed septic systems contribute to the algae problem, but primary sources for harmful algae come from fertilizers and livestock manure from the region’s farm.