Western Lake Erie Basin impairment reported by MDEQ

November 10, 2016

For more Information:
Michael Alexander, 517-449-7971, alexanderm2@michigan.gov
Michael Shore, 517-388-9211, shorem2@michigan.gov

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) today announced its 2016 Integrated Report to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency designates Michigan waters of the Western Lake Erie Basin (WLEB) as impaired due to extensive algal blooms caused by excessive levels of phosphorous. The  impact on aquatic life and other wildlife, a designated use of Lake Erie under state water quality standards, requires the state to take this course of action.

Today’s listing further supports the need for the goals established by the Western Basin of Lake Erie Collaborative Agreement, signed in June, 2015, by Governor Rick Snyder, Premier Kathleen Wynne of the Province of Ontario, and Lieutenant Governor Mary Taylor of Ohio. The Collaborative Agreement acknowledges the importance of nutrient reductions necessary to improve and protect Lake Erie’s water quality.  It established the goal of a 40 percent reduction of total phosphorus loads to Lake Erie by 2025, with an interim goal of a 20 percent reduction by 2020.  

“This determination is the result of shoreline monitoring and cyanobacterial bloom analyses by satellite imagery of the West Lake Erie Basin,” said C. Heidi Grether, MDEQ Director. “The failure of the WLEB to meet Michigan’s water quality standards triggers the impaired waters reporting requirement under the Clean Water Act.”

“Michigan’s portion of Lake Erie is small, but in making this determination, we signal the importance of our actions to date and our commitment moving forward to limit the incidences of severe algal blooms that impact aquatic life and wildlife in our waters. Our goal is Lake Erie waters that experience only mild blooms, or smaller, nine out of ten years,” she said.

Michigan’s finding of excessive nutrients in the WLEB supports the state’s efforts to solve the problem through the Collaborative Agreement and the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, Annex 4 which focus on the Lake Erie issues of algal community imbalance, cyanotoxins, hypoxic zones, and maintenance of trophic conditions. Total phosphorus has been identified as the target nutrient for necessary reductions, with a 40 percent reduction goal of total phosphorus loads entering the western basin to restore its ecological balance.

“The long term solution to the algal bloom problem can only be accomplished through a collaborative approach,” Grether said. “Natural phenomena do not recognize state or national borders and it will take a multi-jurisdictional collaboration to return these waters to a healthier ecological condition.

The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and Michigan Department of Natural Resources are actively working alongside the MDEQ to address the algae blooms and nutrient loading to the WLEB.  Plans under development from the three state agencies will be merged into a draft Domestic Action Plan as part of the Annex 4 process. The Michigan plan will be combined with those of other states and Canada to establish a road map for collaborative actions to address the problem.

The MDEQ is dedicated to respect for Michigan’s citizens, stewardship of the environment, and support for a sustainable economy.