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U.S. federal agencies release draft Domestic Action Plan for Lake Erie

The federal agencies responsible for meeting U.S. commitments under Annex 4 (Nutrients) of the U.S.-Canada Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement released a draft plan on August 17 that describes the activities that federal and state agencies will undertake to address harmful algal blooms and hypoxia in Lake Erie. The plan summarizes the federal and state activities that have been established to manage nutrient discharges to the Lake and achieve the phosphorus reduction targets that the U.S. and Canada established for Lake Erie in February 2016. Those targets include

  • A 40% reduction (compared to a 2008 baseline) by 2025 in total phosphorus entering the western and central basins of Lake Erie to minimize the extent of hypoxic zones;
  • A 40% reduction (compared to a 2008 baseline) by 2025 in spring total and dissolved reactive phosphorus loads from certain watersheds that feed into the western and central basins of Lake Erie to maintain algae at levels that are healthy for the aquatic environment; and
  • A 40% reduction (compared to a 2008 baseline) by 2025 in spring total and dissolved reactive phosphorus loads from the Maumee River in Ohio to minimize harmful toxins that can threaten human and ecosystem health in the western basin of Lake Erie.

The plan describes a combination of ongoing management strategies that the states and the federal government have implemented to achieve the reductions. The report identifies the Maumee River watershed as the greatest challenge and highest priority for reduction in the U.S., and recommends management strategies for agricultural lands that include nutrient management programs such as the 4Rs Nutrient Stewardship Certification program, expanded use of targeted conservation programs, crop rotation and/or cover crops, accelerating investment in on-farm green infrastructure, and managing the “first flush” from agricultural drainage systems. Strategies for reducing phosphorus in non-agricultural discharges include tightening controls on municipal wastewater treatment plant discharges, improving urban storm water management, phasing out residential fertilizer that contains phosphorus, addressing failing home septic systems, and installing buffer strips are identified as high priority strategies for urban, suburban, and non-farm rural areas.

The plan notes that, since 2008, approximately 2.4 million pounds of phosphorus have been removed from discharges to Lake Erie through existing federal and state programs, which is 34% of the total phosphorus reduction that the U.S. has committed to achieve by 2025. Federal agencies assert that this estimate is conservative and does not include all existing federal and state efforts, but additional phosphorus reductions likely will be needed to achieve the goals that the U.S. and Canada adopted in 2016. The plan does not specify how the additional reductions will be achieved.

A copy of the draft U.S. domestic action plan is available on the EPA website at https://www.epa.gov/glwqa/. The draft will be open for public comment until September 29.