By Jamie Cross, Alliance for the Great Lakes
The dangerous and unsightly algae blooms that pronounced Lake Erie “dead” in the 1970’s are returning to the region. Shoreline areas in northern Michigan, Wisconsin and along Lake Erie are knee deep in the green stuff during summer months. Algae is not only unsightly but can harbor dangerous bacteria and toxins that can impair water quality and pose a risk to public health.
During the 1970’s phosphorous was identified as the key contributor to algae growth in the Lakes, and as a result its use was banned in laundry detergents.The results were almost an overnight success, as the Lakes bounced back while the algae disappeared. According to Michigan Environmental Council’s report Something’s Amuck, released in June of 2006, “one pound of phosphorus can stimulate the growth of as much as 500 pounds of algae.” What is the cause of the recent algae blooms? The resurgence of algae is likely due to phosphorus inputs and the invasive mussel species. The feeding habits of the invasive mussels have increased the clarity of water which increases the amount of sunlight that fosters algae growth.
In an effort to combat the problem groups are initiating local controls to reduce phosphates.
West Michigan puts the stopper on phosphates in lawn fertilizer Muskegon County: In June 2006, the Muskegon County Commission passed a county-wide ordinance to ban the sale of phosphates in lawn fertilizers. The ordinance was stimulated by an educational campaign spearheaded by the Mona Lake Watershed Council on the concerns of algae growth in Mona Lake.
Ottawa County: In December 2006, Ottawa County followed Muskegon County’s lead and passed an ordinance that restricts the use of phosphates in lawn fertilizers. Clean-up Our River Environment, a newly formed group in West Michigan, was helped along by the support of the Lake Macatawa Shoreline Association in getting the local ordinance introduced and passed.
In addition to the ordinances in West Michigan, the Huron River Watershed Council was successful in getting a similar ordinance passed in the City of Ann Arbor. These efforts have helped to broaden the support for statewide phosphate reduction legislation.
For more information on reducing phosphates in your community, contact Jamie Cross, Manager of Outreach Programs, Alliance for the Great Lakes at 616-850-0745 ext. 12 or firstname.lastname@example.org.