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article imageMichigan declares its part of Lake Erie an 'impaired waterway'

By Karen Graham     Nov 10, 2016 in Environment
Traverse City - The state of Michigan is declaring its portion of Lake Erie an "impaired waterway" because of damage to fish and other wildlife caused by toxic algae blooms.
According to the Associated Press, the declaration only pertains to Michigan's part of Lake Erie, which amounts to about 2.0 percent of the lake. The declaration was necessary under the rules of the federal Clean Water Act.
Department of Environmental Quality Director Heidi Grether told the AP that shoreline monitoring and analysis of satellite imagery showed the western Lake Erie basin was failing to meet the state's water quality standards.
"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," said Grether, according to CTV News.
As Grether pointed out, there is no need to find new approaches to dealing with the algae problem because Michigan, Ohio and the Canadian province of Ontario are already in the process of developing plans to reduce phosphorus runoff into the lake by 40 percent by 2025, and this includes farms and wastewater treatment plants.
Outbreaks of the blue-green algae, a type of bacteria called cyanobacteria have plagued Lake Erie since the 1990s, sometimes coating the lake in a pea-green slime. The Cyanobacteria produce a cyanotoxin called microcystin. This toxin has resulted in a number of "Do-Not-Drink" warnings over the years.
Satellite image of 2011 bloom  the worst bloom in recent years  which impacted over half of the lake...
Satellite image of 2011 bloom, the worst bloom in recent years, which impacted over half of the lake shore.
NOAA
The 2014 algae bloom on Lake Erie became so bad that over 400,000 people in Toledo, Ohio, and parts of southeastern Michigan were unable to drink their tap water for two days. The 2015 algae bloom was the largest on record, covering an area the size of New York City, reports the Daily Mail.
The 2016 algae bloom was smaller because there were fewer storms to wash phosphorus-laden fertilizers into the lake. But scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found that the toxicity levels were higher than usual, and that's not a good sign.
By declaring its portion of Lake Erie an "impaired waterway," Michigan is setting itself up for a federal order for stricter pollution controls, and this can include a peak on the maximum level of a contaminant that can be in the water and additional regulation of industries and others who are causing the contamination.
This would involve initiating a plan called a "Total Maximum Daily Load" or TMDL blueprint. Instead, Michigan is planning to ask the Environmental Protection Agency to give the agreement between the two states and Ontario a chance to work first.
Cattle and herds of other farm animals are high on the list of methane emitters.
Cattle and herds of other farm animals are high on the list of methane emitters.
USDA
Under the Clean Water Act, each state must develop a TMDL for all the waters identified on their Section 303(d) list of impaired waters, based on the priorities of the contaminated water sources. The EPA either approves or disapproves the TMDL plan, and if it is not approved, the EPA must come up with a plan.
The EPA states that: "TMDLs should clearly identify the links between the water body use impairment, the causes of impairment, and the pollutant load reductions needed to meet the applicable water quality standards." In Michigan's algae problem in Lake Erie, it is clearly due to dissolved phosphorus.
"We are always looking for more collaborative, voluntary approaches to trying to solve these problems," Grether said, adding that using a TMDL would be "like taking a sledgehammer when you might need a pencil."
More about Lake erie, Michigan, impaired waterway, water quality standards, toxicity levels