Great Lakes Health – Lake Erie Hanging in the Balance

by OldElPaso_MuchoFunTonight on October 7, 2016 - 9:30pm

This post will provide a brief summary of a news article posted by the London Free Press on Thursday, October 6, 2016. The article, written by Debora Van Brenk, is titled “Lake Erie: Southwestern Ontario’s border lake is deteriorating, the only of the Great Lakes doing so, scientists warn”. Following the summary, a brief discussion of thoughts and opinions regarding the article will be provided.

   This article gives readers a good background about Lake Erie’s health in the past and describes its current state. The author introduces the lake and tells how it once was declared “dead”, and experienced a marvellous transition back into health, but has since returned to its poor state with respect to water quality and overall lake health. The author informs the reader about some current events at a summit on the Great Lakes water quality. Statements from Tim Eder, Executive director of the Great Lakes Commission state how although Lake Erie is in rough shape, steps are being taken to improve its health. However, at the summit, it was presented that the overall health of the Great Lakes is not changing with the exception of Lake Erie alone. Algae blooms and dead zones present in the lake, reminiscent of its condition under heavy industrial use, have given the lake the status of “poor and deteriorating”. The summit, called the Great lakes Public Forum, is a congregation of scientists, environmentalists, and policy makers. This forum takes a comprehensive look at a broad range of issues facing the great lakes. The article identifies the cause of these algae blooms; nutrients like Nitrogen and Phosphorous which are present on the land, make their way into Lake Erie and act as a source food for toxic algae. The algae eventually dies, and in the process of its organic decomposition, consumes a lot of oxygen, leaving the waters suffocated.

This article is of high interest to me, as I come from an agricultural background and have spent time working in the water resources and environmental field. The problems the Great Lakes are experiencing are very intricate and comprehensive, and a lot of research is required to help scientists and policy makers better understand how to help the situation. Issues related to water quality in the great lakes are immensely important considering how critical they are to the people who live around them. Lake Erie is a source of recreation, economic productivity, travel, and most importantly, drinking water. I feel as though sometimes the importance of the water resources the Lakes provide is understated and looked over.

When I look at the problems Lake Erie is experiencing I have a lot of mixed emotions. There is some conflict that exists which could slow the process of solving this problem. On the positive side, I understand the amount of time, money, and research are going in to find ways to reduce upstream pressures on Lake Erie. Even events like the Public Forum give me hope for the future of the great lakes. Scientists and civilians value the amenities provided by the lake. I do however understand that some of the problem arises from people having economic interest or other incentives which stop them from being motivated to help the problem. Farmers need to fertilize their fields with phosphorous and nitrogen, and it is difficult to manage the application of these nutrients in an agricultural setting. Perhaps it would take some institutional or legislative action beyond what currently exists in order to ensure key players in this situation are acting in an appropriate manner and to help the Lakes out. It will be interesting to see how this situation evolves over time.



I really enjoyed your post addressing the surrounding issues with water quality in Lake Erie. I liked how you offered your personal opinion on the issue, and recommendation to prevent excess nutrients from entering Lake Erie via surface water runoff from agriculture. Much like you I think the biggest input and contribution to excess nutrient deposition in Lake Erie is from agricultural practices. Amendments to the Nutrient Management Act for farmers upstream, or near Lake Erie would most certainly be helpful for reducing excess nutrient concentrations. Do you think the issue of excess nutrients from agriculture in Lake Erie is limited to only Canadian farmers, or is the problem also associated with American farmers who may have different regulations on nutrient management?
Great post!

Thanks for reading through my post - I know it is a bit long. The nutrient problem does not follow political boundaries, rather watershed boundaries! A very large mass of land is responsible for contributing water inflow to Lake Eries, this includes even all the land contributing to lakes upstream, being Huron, Michigan, and Superior. Any watershed which contributes to the Great lakes water system at or before Lake Erie will have contributions from runoff. This is to say that the problem is certainly not limited to Canadian farmers. American farmers in a Lake Erie contributing watershed will most likely have some sort of minor effect on the nutrient levels in the lake. It is important for all farmers to be aware of the issue and to excercise best management practices as they apply to nutrient(manure) application and land management.