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Michigan draft Lake Erie plan ready for public comment

This photo of Microcystis, a kind of cyanobacteria, was taken in Lake Erie.
Rebecca Williams
Michigan Radio

Michigan has a draft plan ready for public comment on how it will help keep phosphorus out of Lake Erie.

All Great Lakes states will come up with their own plan.  Those plans will become part of an EPA-led strategy to fight harmful cyanobacteria, which thrives on the high loads of phosphorus flowing into Lake Erie.

Jim Johnson is Director of the Environmental Stewardship Division of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. 

He says Michigan plans to tighten phosphorus emission permits for the wastewater treatment plants that discharge into Lake Erie.  Several of the permits are up for review in the next year or two.

The state also wants to get more farms to adopt practices that keep phosphorus on the fields and out of waterways that lead to Lake Erie.  Johnson says farmers pay a fee on each bag of fertilizer they buy, which pays for seven MDARD specialists in southeast Michigan.  The specialists help farmers implement best practices, as well as apply for federal grants to help pay for improvements and technology on the farms.

Johnson says this is a long-term battle so the results won't be immediately apparent.

"There is residual phosphorus in those water courses now," he says, "and it will take a while for it to actually move through the system."

Johnson says another crucial aspect of the plan is to continue research on topics that are not well understood, such as why dissolved reactive phosphorus levels are increasing, even though overall phosphorus levels are decreasing.

"We have lots of best management practices for keeping soil from moving off the field," says Johnson, "but we don't have best management practices for dissolved phosphorus in water moving off the field."

Current research is looking at ways of blocking the flow of water from tiled fields, using devices that can shut off the water's flow and keep it out of nearby waterways.

Johnson says the federal grants for farmers, as well as the research funding, is threatened by President Trump's proposed cuts to the budget.

The National Wildlife Federation praised the draft plan for including efforts to involve the state legislature in drafting new laws that may be needed, but says it fails to lay out specific strategies to reduce dissolved phosphorus.  The group also criticizes the state's reliance on voluntary programs which fail to "offer the landscape-wide changes that are needed to solve this problem."

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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