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.

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