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State's Lake Erie Domestic Action Plan sets path to reduce phosphorus by 40%

August 13, 2019

Producers learn about current Great Lakes environmental issues and conservation practices to enhance water quality on a Great Lakes sail tour. Photo credit: MDARD

In our previous two Lake Erie articles covering algal blooms and impacts from invasive species, we discussed factors impacting watershed health. In this final piece, we give an overview of what is being done to correct the situation and improve Lake Erie.

The Michigan Departments of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE); Natural Resources (DNR); and Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) are working together on implementing a plan called the State of Michigan Lake Erie Domestic Action Plan. The plan sets a road map for reducing phosphorus entering Lake Erie by 40% by 2025 as set under the binational Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement with Canada. The plan has three primary goals:

  • Minimize the extent of oxygen-depleted zones in Lake Erie;
  • Maintain healthy animal and plant life; and 
  • Maintain cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) levels that do not produce harmful concentrations of toxins.

This plan is a part of a comprehensive, regional plan led by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency with the states of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, the Environment and Climate Change Canada, and the province of Ontario. Michigan houses just a small portion of the overall Lake Erie watershed, so collaborative actions are key to progress.

What Michigan is doing:

  • Reducing phosphorus inputs from the Detroit River and River Raisin watersheds, and Michigan’s portion of the Maumee River watershed. 
  • Forming partnerships to provide technical and financial assistance to farmers. 
  • Reaching out?to the public and farmers to promote understanding of good conservation practices. 
  • Promoting wetland restoration and other land management initiatives. 

Other actions include support for green infrastructure practices and a voluntary farmer stewardship program. Recently, the Great Lakes Water Authority, which manages wastewater from four million southeast Michigan customers, reached its goal to reduce phosphorus from treatment plants six years ahead of schedule. 

When will we see results? Scientists say that it will take time for the ecosystem to respond and improve, but the state and its partners are committed to reaching their shared goals and making change happen. The adaptive management strategy of the Domestic Action Plan means that work to find solutions will continue to improve as more is understood.  

Follow updates at

The first and second articles in this series are available on the MI Environment website.

Photo Credit: MDARD

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