By: Celia Carr- The Brock Press
The people of the Great Lake regions are proud of their beautiful lakefront beaches, but over the years these beaches have been threatened by a number of pollution sources and a variety of environmental stresses, which contribute to contaminated beach water.
A topic of concern this summer has been what are known as “dead zones” in Lake Erie. These dead zones are described as areas in the lake where an excessive amount of toxic algae has grown because of phosphorous runoff. Due to the high contamination, fish and other organisms cannot survive in these areas. According to the International Joint Commission, urgent steps need to be taken in order to control the runaway algae which produce harmful toxins and contribute to these dead zones.
This issue had first prompted both Canada and the United States to reach an agreement on the improvement of the quality in the Great Lakes over 40 years ago when Lake Erie was considered ecologically dead. Unfortunately however, the worst of these algae blooms have occurred within the last five to seven years.
The phosphorous runoff has emerged primarily due to large farms, where manure along with other fertilizers are washed in to the rivers during storms and when the snow melts in the winter. These farms accounted for more than half of the phosphorous in the lake. The rest is a result of smaller farms, nearshore communities and city sewers.
“The ultimate concern is that there will be some toxicity associated with severe blooms and it’s this toxicity that can affect human and animal health,” senior water quality and ecosystem advisor Glenn Benoy told sources. Ultimately these blooms have greatly impacted the ecosystems within the lake because fish and other animals cannot survive as a result of the high toxicity.
Other Great Lakes have been affected by these algae blooms but as of right now, Lake Erie is exhibiting the worst symptoms, and is only expected to get worse.
The prohibition of any phosphorous fertilizer has been discussed by the United States and Canada, as well as stricter monitoring of the sewage plants that empty into the lake. Another idea that has been recommended is to link the cost and availability of government-subsidized crop insurance to farmers’ willingness to curb phosphorus runoffs. The idea is that the more you contribute to the pollution, the more you are going to pay. This would hopefully deter farmers from using these products.
Despite the harsh realities of the situation, Benoy insists, “The idea that we could turn time back and go back to a Lake Erie like it was pre-war or something will take centuries”. “The goal is to have the lake in an environmental condition that is “desirable and acceptable” to the public he added.