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Environmental groups: More needed to keep phosphorus out of Lake Erie

Jeff Reutter
Ohio State University

On Monday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced $41 million to help farmers in the West Lake Erie Basin reduce phosphorus runoff through voluntary programs.

Gail Philbin of the Michigan Chapter Sierra Club says "every little bit helps," but she thinks there are a number of other things that could do more to keep phosphorus out of Lake Erie.

The nutrient encourages the growth of bacteria and algae blooms.

Philbin says the federal government should designate the waters of the basin "impaired" – "which would then set total maximum loads for these nutrients," she says, "so that you would start to have some real goals."

Philbin says current programs are voluntary, and she also says the programs are missing the real problem.  While levels of phosphorus getting into Lake Erie are going down, levels of dissolved reactive phosphorus are going up. No one is really sure why.

Philbin also says there should be an outright ban on spreading manure on frozen fields. The manure is loaded with phosphorus. "What happens is when the snow melts," she says, "the waste goes right into the waterway."

 In 2014, a huge bloom of toxic cyanobacteria shut down Toledo's water supply for two days, and cyanobacteria blooms in 2015 reached record levels.

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.
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