LANSING — On November 10, 2016, Governor Snyder and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) listed the open waters of western Lake Erie as impaired under the federal Clean Water Act for the first time. Reacting to deteriorating water quality and the ongoing threat of harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie, the DEQ included the waters of the Great Lake in its annual report to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This designation opens the door for national expertise and funding to jump-start state and regional efforts to fix Lake Erie’s chronic algae problem. Environmental and conservation groups throughout the Great Lakes region celebrated Michigan’s decision and encouraged regulators in Ohio and at the EPA to follow suit.
Today’s announcement by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is a fantastic first step in addressing the chronic threat of toxic algae in Lake Erie,” said Lisa Wozniak, Executive Director of Michigan League of Conservation Voters. “Last year’s algae bloom was the largest ever recorded in Lake Erie. The Michigan League of Conservation Voters looks forward to working with the DEQ to develop new and innovative strategies to solve this chronic problem that continues to threaten the health of the thousands of Michiganders who depend on Lake Erie for their drinking water.”
The growing annual threat of harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie has become a top concern throughout the region. Blooms threaten drinking water supplies and increase the cost of water treatment. They are also known to foul beaches, harm wildlife, and prevent access to the lake for many recreational activities.
In the summer of 2015, Lake Erie was afflicted by the largest algal bloom ever recorded and in 2014 a harmful algal bloom poisoned the drinking water of more than 400,000 people in Toledo, Ohio. In 2011, microcystin—a toxin created by cyanobacteria and often found during extreme algal blooms—was recorded in the open waters of Lake Erie at concentrations 50 times higher than World Health Organization limits for safe body contact, and 1,200 times higher than the limit for human consumption.
By designating western Lake Erie as impaired under the Clean Water Act, Michigan is making more tools available in the effort to clean up the lake. We applaud the state for taking this positive step and showing leadership in this effort,” said Crystal M. C. Davis, Policy Director with the Alliance for the Great Lakes. “Unfortunately, Ohio has refused to do the same. We urge the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to take Michigan’s lead and designate all of western Lake Erie’s open waters as impaired.”
While runoff from cities, failing septic systems and sewage overflows are known to contribute to algal growth, scientists agree that the leading cause of harmful algal blooms is runoff pollution from agriculture. Agricultural runoff pollution occurs when rain and snowmelt flush excess fertilizers and manure off of farm fields and into streams and rivers. Those streams then carry the nutrient-rich fertilizers and manure into Lake Erie where they end up feeding the growth of algae, rather than the crops for which they were intended.
We’re very encouraged to see the State of Michigan working to meet its obligations as steward of the state’s waters,” said Mike Shriberg, Great Lakes regional executive director for the National Wildlife Federation. “Notifying Michigan citizens that the open waters of Lake Erie and other critical waterways are failing to meet established standards for drinking water, swimming, fishing and other uses is the first step and shows strong leadership from Michigan. Today’s action needs to be a catalyst for the U.S. EPA and states of Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana to act with urgency to craft and implement a pollution-reduction plan that protects our waters from harmful algal blooms. The millions of people who depend on Lake Erie for their drinking water, jobs, and way of life are counting on public officials to get the job done.”
Michigan League of Conservation Voters, Alliance for the Great Lakes, and the National Wildlife Federation were joined by Ohio Environmental Council and Freshwater Future in their applause of Michigan’s groundbreaking decision to include Lake Erie in its impaired waters report.