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Regional Leaders Recommend Action on Nutrient Pollution

Regional Leaders Recommend Action on Nutrient Pollution

Excess nutrients in the Great Lakes have attracted significant attention in recent years. Excess phosphorus and other nutrients enable harmful algal blooms that disrupt recreation and tourism and can impact drinking water supplies and even public health. As an example, in August 2014 the City of Toledo was forced to advise nearly half a million residents of northeastern Ohio and southern Michigan that they could not drink water from the City of Toledo municipal water utility due to the presence of toxic substances produced by harmful algae in Lake Erie.

Both federal governments, most of the Great Lakes states and provinces, and virtually every regional NGO have identified nutrient pollution as a critical Great Lakes policy issue. On June 13, 2015 the Governors of Michigan and Ohio and the Premier of Ontario committed to developing programs for reducing phosphorus discharges to the Western Basin of Lake Erie (WBLE) by 40% by 2025 compared to 2008 baseline levels, with an interim goal of reducing phosphorus 20% by 2020. This reduction target was also recommended in a study report released by the Great Lakes Commission on June 16 and has been endorsed by more than 100 mayors who are members of the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Cities Initiative.

The Commission’s report recommends nine strategies for reducing nutrient discharges, including reduction of key point source nutrient discharges, application of green infrastructure measures to urban and rural landscapes, changes in agricultural practices, and a phase-out of residential phosphorus application. The Commission recommends more stringent effluent limits on seven key municipal discharges (Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, Wayne County-Downriver WWTP, Ypsilanti Community Utility Authority, City of Toledo WWTP, and three WWTPs in the Northeast Ohio Regional Sanitary District.

In a separate effort, Annex 4 (Nutrients) of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA) requires USEPA and Environment Canada to jointly propose revised loading targets and allocations for phosphorus in Lake Erie. The governments have recommended the following targets under Annex 4:

  • 40 percent reduction in total phosphorus entering Lake Erie from the US and Canada to achieve 6000 metric ton load in the central basin of the lake;
  • 40 percent reduction in spring total and soluble reactive phosphorus loads from watersheds where localized algae is a problem (the Thames River and Leamington Tributaries in Canada and the Maumee River, River Raisin, Portage River, Toussaint Creek, Sandusky River, and Huron River in the US); and
  • 40 percent reduction in spring total and soluble reactive phosphorus loads from the Maumee River.

Domestic action plans for implementing the criteria will follow by 2018. Targets for the other four Great Lakes also will be proposed under Annex 4.  In short, nutrient releases are receiving much attention in the Great Lakes basin these days, including those associated with industrial discharges.