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Fighting for Lake Erie

Person holding Lake Erie algae sample in glass container. Credit: MDARDToday's MI Environment story by EGLE's Michelle Selzer, Lake Erie coordinator in the Water Resources Division, is from the State of Great Lakes report.

For a number of years, Lake Erie's western basin has been plagued by algal blooms that are harmful to aquatic life and can have detrimental effects on the area's drinking water supply. The growth of the blooms often is fed by phosphorus and nitrogen getting into the lake from a number of sources, such as wastewater treatment plant discharges and farm fields. It is also due in part to the relative shallowness of the lake.

In February 2018, Michigan released a Domestic Action Plan (DAP) road map to deal with the harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie. The plan was developed by a team from the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE); Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD); and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The goal of the DAP is to reduce the amount of phosphorus entering Lake Erie by 40 percent by 2025.

In conjunction with the DAP, Michigan has developed an Adaptive Management Plan that will allow for a more structured way to learn about the impacts of actions to reach the state's reduction goals and then use the results of those actions to adjust future paths forward. The adaptive management cycle consists of six iterative steps: setting goals; planning and prioritizing; implementing; monitoring; evaluating; and adjusting.

EGLE, MDARD and DNR staff are working together as the Adaptive Management Team to plan and implement a cohesive and structured adaptive management process. The team is developing joint annual progress reports and two-year work plans, along with five-year DAP updates to keep stakeholders engaged in the work ahead.

"While we have made some progress, such as reducing phosphorus loads from wastewater treatment plants, there is a lot more work that needs to be done," EGLE Director Liesl Eichler Clark said. "Reaching our goal of a healthy Lake Erie is going to take some time. Using the Adaptive Management Plan, we can evaluate our progress along the way and adjust as we go to make sure the Lake Erie Domestic Action Plan is completed properly and protects public health and the environment."

Public engagement has been an important element to finalizing an effective Adaptive Management Plan. During an open public comment period, stakeholders provided valuable insight into the plan and its goals. Comments will be incorporated into the plan before it is formally implemented.

The adaptive management approach is expected to maximize environmental and economic benefits, while addressing the nutrient issues in Michigan's portion of the Western Lake Erie basin. In addition to the western basin, Michigan's adaptive management approach is helping to address a related problem in the central basin, where a growing dead zone at the bottom of the lake in the summer and fall, caused by decaying algae, is depleting oxygen, which organisms need to survive.

Michigan is making progress, but this is a complex problem that requires gathering more information. This is why the state is taking an adaptive management approach. Finding solutions to the Lake Erie algal bloom and dead zone problems is going to take time and require collective impact of regional and binational efforts to achieve progress in improving the ecological health of Lake Erie.

To keep up to date on the DAP, the adaptive management process, and other efforts toward a healthier Lake Erie or to learn more about the Adaptive Management Plan, go to the Taking Action on Lake Erie website.

Photo caption: Person holding Lake Erie algae sample in glass container. Photo credit: MDARD

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