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Lake Erie's toxic blooms spark new EPA grants

Tracy Samilton
Michigan Radio

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has awarded grants to three states - Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana - to reduce phosphorus levels in Lake Erie.

This summer, a toxic cyanobacteria bloom shut down the water supply to the city of Toledo.  Algae and cyanobacteria thrive in high-phosphorus environments.

Much of the phosphorus comes from farms surrounding the lake.

Jamie Clover Adams is Michigan Director of Agriculture and Rural Development.

She says Michigan has only about 15% of the land near Lake Erie, but the state has to do its part.

"We've taken many farmers on sails out into western lake Erie to see what the algae bloom actually looks like, to do water sampling - so they can see for themselves what the impact of too much phosphorus is."

Clover Adams says Michigan farmers can also sign up for a voluntary program to help them learn how to keep nutrients on their land and out of the lake.

The EPA has awarded $7.4 million in Great Lake Restoration Initiative grants to the Ohio Departments of Natural Resources and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, $807,000 to the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, and $360,000 to the Indiana Department of Agriculture.

The grants will be used to provide technical assistance and incentives to farmers in western Lake Erie watersheds to reduce phosphorus runoff that contributes to harmful algal blooms, and to improve measurement of phosphorus loads in Lake Erie tributaries.

From the EPA press release:

In early August, the city of Toledo issued a "Do Not Drink" order for almost 500,000 people in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan when a drinking water treatment plant was adversely impacted by micrcystin, a toxin generated by a harmful algal bloom in western Lake Erie. In addition to generating toxins that pose risks to human health, harmful algal blooms contribute to low-oxygen "dead zones' in the deeper waters of Lake Erie and harm shoreline economies.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.