New Michigan coalition eyes improved water quality in Western Lake Erie Basin

(Department of Agriculture and Rural Development)

LANSING, Mich. – Michigan leaders announced Monday, Oct. 16 the formation of a new coalition that will work to improve water quality in the Western Lake Erie Basin, according to a news release from the state Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

The Michigan Cleaner Lake Erie through Action and Research partnership includes farmers, agricultural and environmental leaders, universities, conservationists, landscape professionals, energy leaders, tourism and economic development interests, and more, the release said.

Also according to the release, the partnership will promote awareness of science and research-based efforts aimed at improving the health of Lake Erie, and provide quantifiable metrics and unbiased information about Michigan’s efforts to preserve and protect the WLEB’s waters.

“The present WLEB landscape is highly active, so this partnership will help improve how we share information and scientific findings, which will help us all find solutions to harmful algae blooms,” said Scott Piggott, Chief Operating Officer, Michigan Farm Bureau. “The MI CLEAR partnership is designed to bring nontraditional groups together, give everyone a voice to build shared understanding, and offer everyone a stake in shared success. The goal is to develop a better picture of how algae blooms are fueled, and identify what near and long-term steps Michigan stakeholders could support for promoting water quality improvements.”

Potential factors include zebra mussels and other invasive species that have led to clearer water, allowing sunlight to penetrate deeper and increasing algae growth; larger rainfall events happening more reliably each year, which push stormwater and large amounts of untreated sewage into the WLEB; geography (nutrient-rich water flows into Lake Erie from many states and Canada); municipal sewer inputs; industrial pollution; faulty septic systems; lawn applications of fertilizers in residential neighborhoods and on golf courses; farm manure and fertilizer runoff; extreme weather patterns in recent years, and more.

Jennifer G. Read, Ph.D., Director of the University of Michigan Water Center, said current studies range from the edge of farm fields to understanding what happens in the open lake, and researchers are piecing together a complex picture of land use, historic inputs to the basin, the impact of climate change, and more, the release said.

“The research community continues to study the causes of harmful algal blooms, and how changes in the lake chemistry, weather patterns and land use all contribute to water conditions,” said Read. “There’s no doubt that nutrient loading is the primary issue; however, other factors play important, synergistic roles and it’s important to understand where and how they have an impact. Things such as the role of climate change, which is bringing more rain, at the worst time in many cases, are a challenge we’ll need to figure out how to address. And much of the current research is looking at the interplay of these issues.”

— Department of Agriculture and Rural Development

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