Posted by: Vicki Burns | December 9, 2014

“Blue-Green Algae Threatens Our Lakes”, Final Lecture for 2014 Water@Wayne Series

I was honoured to be invited to Wayne State University in Detroit last week to give the final presentation for 2014 in their public series ,Water@Wayne. It was an opportunity to meet members of the multi-disciplinary Urban Watershed Environmental Research Group, as well as graduate students who are all working on this issue from a variety of perspectives. I was struck by how much we can learn from each other. As well it reinforced how beneficial it would be to have a coordinated mechanism for tracking blue-green algae blooms across North America, to document the extent of this problem and to share information about successful interventions.

Water@Wayne lecture Dec.2014

Water@Wayne lecture Dec.2014

Detroit is situated very close to Toledo, Ohio where there was a threat to the city’s drinking water from microcystin, a toxin in blue-green algae, in Lake Erie. The entire city and suburbs of 400,000 people were told not to drink the water coming out of their taps for a couple of days in the summer of 2014. There couldn’t be much more of a red flag than this. These toxic algae blooms are a problem we need to take swifter action to resolve. Apparently some fingers were pointed at Detroit’s contribution to the problem because of the extent of phosphorus and nitrogen making its way to Lake Erie via the Detroit River, from combined sewer overflows that routinely happen in that city. Sounds very familiar to those of us living in Winnipeg and I suspect, in many other North American cities.

Carol Miller and Shawn McElmurray of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Dept. of Wayne State University were both part of the Great Lakes Science Advisory Board, Taking Action on Lake Erie Working Group. This group had a major role in producing the recent report of the IJC, A Balanced Diet for Lake Erie, Reducing Phosphorus Loadings and Harmful Algae Blooms. It’s a thorough, easily understandable report with 16 key recommendations for lowering the phosphorus inputs to Lake Erie. Many of the recommendations could be generalized across North America wherever blue-green algae blooms are appearing.

IJC LEEP Report on Lake Erie

IJC LEEP Report on Lake Erie

At the end of my presentation, comments from the audience seemed to confirm my impressions. We already have many effective ways to decrease phosphorus getting into our waters but what is still lacking is the political leadership to implement the measures required, some of which will be painful to implement both from a financial and social perspective. The consequence of the slow action though, will be increasingly polluted lakes that are not safe, swimmable, fishable or drinkable. I won’t stop pushing for the right actions because to put it simply, I love our lakes and I can’t bear to see them deteriorate because of human actions and subsequent inactions. What about you?

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