Lake Erie: Phosphorus runoff still a problem 2012.05.09

Written by David Green.

Elected officials from Ohio, Michigan and Indiana met with federal agriculture and environmental officials last month to announce a new program aimed at reducing the amount of phosphorus flowing into Lake Erie.

The goal of the new initiative is to increase conservation practices on agricultural land that will lead to a decrease in runoff from fields. 

Farmers are encouraged to place fertilizer and manure below the soil surface, to plant buffers and filter strips along streams and ditches and to avoid the over-application of manure when phosphorus levels are already high.

The toxic organic sludge from blue-green algae has been a problem in the Western Lake Erie Basin for years, leading to a “dead zone” in the lake’s central basin where fish can’t live.

Agricultural runoff isn’t the only problem. Municipal sewage systems and yard fertilizer also contribute phosphorus to feed the algae, but it’s agricultural waste that’s at issue in the recent conservation measure.

Money is available for conservation efforts, but in some cases that’s not enough. We were recently informed by a resident who lives near Lake Hudson State Recreation Area that liquid manure is applied on hills that lead down to the water. A heavy application followed by rain sends additional phosphorus on a trip to Lake Erie.

Even though the Southern Michigan Dairies between Hudson and Morenci are now out of business, there are still millions of gallons of liquid waste in lagoons. Manure is being pumped to distant fields through long “draglines.”

Members of a local environment group observed draglines placed across Bean Creek and across a tributary last week. They later saw that an unattended line broke open and manure was observed in Toad Creek—a tributary to the Bean.

No matter how much federal money is available for good conservation efforts, it’s not going to do the job until some farming practices change. Lake Erie recovery isn’t likely with liquid manure still washing into streams.

  • Front.splash
    Water Fun—Carter Seitz and Colson Walter take a fast trip along a plastic sliding strip while water from a sprinkler provides the lubrication. The boys took a break from tie-dyeing last week at Morenci’s Summer Recreation Program to cool off in the water.
  • Front.starting
    BIKE-A-THON—Children in Morenci’s Summer Recreation Program brought their bikes last Tuesday to participate in a bike-a-thon. Riders await the start of the event at the elementary school before being led on a course through town by organizer Leonie Leahy.
  • Front.drum
    on your mark, get set, drum!—Drew Joughin (black shirt), Maddox Joughin and Kaleea Braun took the front row last week when Angela Rettle and assistants led the Stair District Library Summer Reading Program kids in a session of cardio drumming. The sports and healthy living theme continued yesterday with a Mini Jamboree at Lake Hudson State Park arranged by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Next week’s program features the Flying Aces Frisbee show.
  • Front.art.park
    ART PARK—A design created by Poggemeyer Design Group shows a “pocket art park” in the green space south of the State Line Observer building. The proposal includes a 12-foot sculpture based on a design created by Morenci sixth grade student Klara Wesley through a school and library collaboration. A wooden band shell is located at the back of the lot. The Observer wall would be covered with a synthetic stucco material. City council members are considering ways to fund the estimated $125,000 project and perhaps tackling construction one step at a time.
  • Front.train
    WRECKAGE—Morenci Fire Department member Taylor Schisler walks past the smoking wreckage of a semi-truck tractor on the north side of the Norfolk and Southern Railroad tracks on Ranger Highway. The truck trailer was on the south side of the tracks

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