Michigan State University

As Lake Erie algae season looms, Michigan punts on new farm rules

Jon Harrison

On the cusp of what's expected to be another sizable summer algae bloom in Lake Erie, the state of Michigan has released a plan for improving the lake that critics say doesn't do enough to reduce nutrient-laden runoff from farms.

The state calls the 23-page Domestic Action Plan for Lake Erie released June 13 a roadmap to help Michigan meet its joint pledge with Ohio and Canada to reduce phosphorous entering the lake by 40 percent over the next eight years.

Phosphorous runoff from farms, sewage plants and other sources of nutrient pollution is fueling disgusting and dangerous algae growth in the lake's western end each summer. A toxin inside the blue-green algae can cause rashes, nausea, headaches and organ damage.

Michigan is one of several states in the lake's watershed issuing action plans the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency expects to roll into a broader strategy to curb the harmful algal blooms, which turn the water green, slimy and toxic.

The 2012 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement between the U.S. and Canada requires national plans be completed by February 2018.

Michigan's plan notes the possibility of new laws -- if the legislature will pass them -- that could improve the lake's health by adjusting the state drain code, developing a statewide septic system rules and other changes to "create a more integrated, watershed-based system for managing water at the landscape level."

The plan was developed jointly between the state departments of Environmental Quality (DEQ), Natural Resources (DNR) and Agriculture & Rural Development (MDARD).

Public comment on the plan ends July 14. A public meeting is scheduled Wednesday, June 28 at 6:30 p.m. in the Baer Auditorium at Adrian College.

The plan drew praise from the Michigan Farm Bureau because it doesn't recommend any new regulation on agriculture, which scientists who've studied the blooms say is the largest source of nutrient runoff feeding the algae with available phosphorus.

The plan drew measured criticism from environmental groups in Michigan and Ohio for the same reason. Instead of calling for new rules on how farms use fertilizer, the plan emphasizes reliance on voluntary programs like the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP), which incentivizes farms to install environmentally friendly features like soil buffer strips, windbreak trees and subsurface tile drain filters.

For the full article, see Garret Ellison, "As Lake Erie algae season looms, Michigan punts on new farm rules", MLive, June 18, 2017.


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