Anniversary of Pelee Island algal bloom a reminder that action needed

On the two-year anniversary of a toxic algal bloom on Lake Erie that closed beaches and left Pelee Island residents without safe water for days, environmental groups are calling for a strong action plan to protect this Great Lake.

Algal blooms are a serious threat to public health, wildlife, and local economies. Last August, Lake Erie saw its largest bloom ever recorded. While this year’s drought conditions might spare the lake from a severe bloom, the groups say changes to policies and land management practices are still needed to stop the blooms in the future.

“A lack of rain is keeping algal blooms at bay this year, but communities and businesses cannot rely on dry weather to solve Lake Erie’s algae problem,” says Ashley Wallis, Water Program Manager with Environmental Defence. “To protect our drinking water and ensure safe, clean beaches, the federal and provincial governments need to commit to a comprehensive action plan that is backed by real dollars.”

Commitments under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA), and a memorandum of understanding between Michigan, Ohio and Ontario, commit the federal and provincial governments to working together to write and implement an action plan that will reduce phosphorus pollution to safe levels. Environmental groups on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border are calling for a plan that includes:

  • Adequate long-term funding for science and solutions;
  • A comprehensive monitoring program that tracks progress and uses an adaptive management approach;
  • Proactive mechanisms to ensure existing rules are being followed;
  • Specific programs, policies, and tactics that target the biggest sources of nutrient pollution, while considering:
    • Common sense regulations on farming practices;
    • Green infrastructure to reduce stormwater runoff;
    • Repairs and upgrades to home septic systems; and
    • Reductions in phosphorus discharges from wastewater treatment plants.
  • Public consultation to develop and implement solutions that will efficiently and adequately reduce phosphorus pollution by 40 per cent by 2025, as committed to in June 2015.

The number one cause of the blooms is nutrient loss from agricultural fertilizers. Other algae-causing pollution sources include municipal wastewater and stormwater discharges, runoff from streets and lawns that contain pet waste and lawn fertilizer, and poorly maintained septic systems.

“Ontario, Ohio, and Michigan have taken positive steps to reduce phosphorus,” says Raj Gill with the Canadian Freshwater Alliance. “But current actions are not enough to achieve the 40 per cent phosphorus reduction that the province and states committed to.

“Two years after residents of Pelee Island went almost two weeks without drinking water because of a toxic algal bloom, we are still waiting for governments to tell us how they are going to address the problem. It’s time for Ontario and Canada to take this issue seriously and take immediate action to protect the drinking water of the 11 million people relying on Lake Erie water,” says Nancy Goucher of Freshwater Future.