Environmental Defence and Freshwater Future describe needed actions to prevent further blooms in Lake Erie
Windsor, ON – As large seasonal algal blooms are occurring in Lake Erie, including one that recently forced a water ban in Toledo, OH, a new report is urging action to help prevent future outbreaks in the Great Lakes. The report called Clean, Not Green: Tackling Algal Blooms in the Great Lakes outlines a four-point plan, including the use of market mechanisms to pay farmers to stop nutrient pollution, to help create a healthy future for the Great Lakes.
“The Great Lakes supply drinking water for millions of people, and are critical to Ontario’s fishing, boating and tourism industries,” said Nancy Goucher, Water Program Manager with Environmental Defence. “Allowing them to be covered in green slime every summer is simply not an option.”
Algal blooms happen when algae—microscopic, plant-like organisms that naturally live in the water—grow out of control. The main culprit behind the blooms is phosphorus runoff, which is having a bigger impact these days because of climate change and invasive species that help to create a perfect environment for algal growth. Algal blooms are forcing beach closures, increasing water treatment costs, and killing fish. They could also pose health threats and reduce property values.
“Because we live on a peninsula with Lake Erie as our southern boundary, the lake’s health has a major impact on all of us in Windsor and Essex County. It goes without saying that we are all concerned about keeping the lake healthy,” said Glenn Stresman, Executive Director of the WindsorEssex Community Foundation. “The problem the algal bloom caused with Toledo’s water purification system is indeed a “wake up call” for us.” 
There is also concern that the algal blooms could deter tourists from wanting to spend time on, in or near Lake Erie, impacting local tourism revenues. “Our long, fabulous waterfront is a major factor in the success of our $1.46 billion tourism economy in Ontario’s Southwest.  Visitors and residents equally enjoy it for swimming, fishing, boating, camping and many other related activities,” said Jim Hudson, Executive Director of the Southwest Ontario Tourism Organization. “We are most fortunate to have this incredible natural resource and we should protect it for the future. That means beginning to take steps today to save it for future generations to enjoy.”
The good news is that the problem is fixable. The solution lies in a four-point action plan that begins with finding creative ways to pay farmers for practices that reduce nutrient pollution. The Ontario government should evaluate the applicability of market mechanisms such as tax-shifting, pollution taxes, and nutrient trading to transfer money from undesirable acts like polluting to desirable ones that reward farmers for “doing the right thing”.
“Our plan is about giving farmers the tools and financial resources they need to help reduce their nutrient runoff in the lake,” said Environmental Defence’s Goucher. “Reducing the amount of phosphorus in the lake will have a huge impact on the size and frequency of algal blooms in the future.”
“Ontario farmers have a strong environmental ethic and want to be part of the solution to reducing nutrient pollution,” said Henry Denotter, Past President of Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association, and a grain and oil seeds farmer. “We are looking forward to working with the Ontario government on evaluating how market mechanisms could be used to develop well designed, administered and funded programs to assist landowners in increasing the rate of adoption of nutrient reduction solutions.”
The remaining recommendations suggest a need to get better at creating water-smart communities and citizens. This begins with implementing infrastructure solutions that are known to do a good job of filtering pollutants from water before it reaches the lakes.
“Collectively, we need to increase the scale and intensity of existing programs targeting non-point sources of phosphorus and other pollution, rather than establishing new ones,” said Richard Wyma, General Manager for the Essex Region Conservation Authority. “We’re on the right track – we just need to do more.”
The report also recommends more investment in science to better understand the sources of phosphorus and how to stop it from washing into lakes, and develop policies to set nutrient-reduction targets and protect nutrient-filtering wetland areas.
Environmental Defence and Freshwater Future’s report, Clean, Not Green: Tackling Algal Blooms in the Great Lakes can be downloaded at environmentaldefence.ca/algae.
About ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE (environmentaldefence.ca): Environmental Defence is Canada’s most effective environmental action organization. We challenge, and inspire change in government, business and people to ensure a greener, healthier and prosperous life for all.
About FRESHWATER FUTURE (freshwaterfuture.org): FRESHWATER FUTURE CANADA works to ensure the healthy future of our waters in the Great Lakes region. We provide grants, share information, offer training, as well as planning and strategy consulting assistance. We also encourage participation in protecting and restoring local rivers, lakes and wetlands.
For more information or to arrange an interview please contact:
Jen Mayville, Environmental Defence, 905-330-0172 (cell); jmayville@environmentaldefence.ca
Naomi Carniol, Environmental Defence, 416-323-9521 ext 258; 416-570-2878 (cell) ncarniol@environmentaldefence.ca