HABs in the Great Lakes basin are typically characterized by a green scum or mat of algae, and they have the potential to produce toxins that are harmful to people and animals. Western Lake Erie is the most prominent and egregious example of HABs problems in the Great Lakes, but HABs concerns are present across the Great Lakes basin. HABs in the Great Lakes are caused by excess nutrients entering our waterways – often largely from agricultural land use, but also from urban sources like wastewater and stormwater.
|Algal blooms in Lake Erie's western basin can threaten drinking water supplies, aquatic habitats, and recreational waters. Photo: Zachary Haslick, Aerial Associates Photography, Inc.|
Although blooms are caused by actions on farms, at wastewater treatment plants, and in cities, the resulting toxins and scums are responded to by public health officials, water treatment plants, and the fishing and tourism industry, so the solution to HABs sits between these numerous parties. This creates a diverse and complicated mix of partners – and it has been fascinating to see how knowledge can be shared and alliances can be forged. That is not to say that conversations are always easy and agreement is always forthcoming, but the act of involving stakeholders from all sides of the issue is incredibly valuable.
This was exemplified at the Ohio Sea Grant’s "State of the Science: Understanding Algal Blooms" conference. The table I was sitting at included an agricultural researcher, water quality researchers, and an agribusiness leader. Our table was just a microcosm of the various fields represented at the conference, which went on to include water treatment specialists and public health researchers. It also included people from both inside and outside of the Lake Erie basin, highlighting the importance of sharing information across the Great Lakes watersheds facing HABs concerns.
Despite the numerous sectors involved, progress on Lake Erie simply is not where it needs to be. As is evident in the photo above, the bloom was raging this year, coming in as the third worst bloom in the last 15 years. To better track the wide-ranging actions on Lake Erie and resulting progress toward goals of reducing nutrients, the Great Lakes Commission launched a website with The Nature Conservancy under the Blue Accounting initiative. ErieStat will bring the varying efforts from different jurisdictions to the same platform, using common goals and metrics. It has been exciting to be a part of this project as new collaborations are built in the Great Lakes basin.