ADRIAN State officials published a management strategy to improve Lake Erie water quality last month, but environmental groups believe it is flawed.
The adaptive management planThis document is part of an effort in Michigan, Ohio, Ontario to reduce the number harmful algal blooms occurring in Lake Erie. It is the companion document to the previously released statesDomestic action planAddressing the causes that cause harmful algal blooms to Lake Erie.
Michigan’s Great Lakes are what define us. We need to work together to protect them for future generations. Gretchen Whitmer stated in a news release. We know that harmful algal blossoms can be caused from a variety of sources in Michigan’s Western Lake Erie Basin as well as elsewhere. It will be difficult to reach our 40 per cent nutrient reduction goal. But, I believe we can. Together, we will make investments to reduce algal blooms as well as continue to protect our Great Lakes.
According to the state’s news release, the plan was jointly developed by a senior management group from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE), and the Department of Natural Resources. It is a learning-based management strategy. Michigan’s adaptive management system will work in two ways. First, it will evaluate the outcomes from deliberate, measured actions taken in order to reduce phosphorous. Second, it will develop and implement scientifically driven research programs to address gaps or uncertainties in existing phosphorus reduction techniques and technologies.
The adaptive management plan will be used by both state-led projects and partner-supported ones to reduce the amount nutrients from fertilizer and wastewater entering Lake Erie. This is in line with Michigan’s 2025 goal to reduce phosphorus and soluble reactivephosphorus, which fuels algal growth, according to the release.
Lenawee Conservation District is one of the local agencies that assisted in the implementation of the plan.
Brooke Bollwahn (conservation district manager) stated that we are actively working in the Western Lake Erie Basin, in order to implement programs in support of the Domestic Action Plan. This work includes agricultural inventories, habitat rehabilitation projects, and implementation conservation best management practices for improving soil and water quality.
The plan focuses on subwatersheds within River Raisin or Bean Creek watersheds, in areas between Waldron, Morenci, Morenci and Weston as well as areas northwest and southeast Clayton and near Luna Pier.
Another part of this plan includes the DNR working in partnership with Ducks Unlimited to establish a pilot agriculture restoration project in the Lenawee–Hillsdale County line to reduce phosphorus emissions to the Bean Creek watershed.
According to the plan, the state reached its goal of reducing the amount in Lake Erie’s water by 20% by 2020. This was achieved by working with wastewater treatment plants. The plan outlines Michigan’s three main areas of focus to achieve the 40% reduction goal. These areas include reducing loads from specific outlets, general runoff areas, wetland restoration and green stormwater infrastructure.
The news release stated that the plan will reduce the number of harmful algal blooms by reducing the nutrient loads, such as phosphorus, from urban sources and farmland. Harmful algal blossoms are algae overgrowths that can produce toxic substances and affect water quality.
Michigan has already achieved its goal of a 20 per cent reduction in phosphorus loads by 2020. But, we still have a long way to go to reach our 40 percent goal, stated Gary McDowell (director, Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development). We can make a difference in water quality by partnering up with our sister agencies, local conservation district, and continuing our outreach with farmers.
Both local and state environmental groups aren’t as confident in the plan’s potential success. Both the Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan, (ECCSCM), and Michigan Environmental Council (MEC), criticized the plans for continuing to rely on voluntary agricultural programs like the Michigan Agricultural Environmental Assurance Programs (MAEAP), as well as the lack of a robust data system to measure progress.
MAEAP refers to a list of management practices, such as cover crops or grass strips. However, it doesn’t include any accountability for measurable water quality results that demonstrate improvement for taxpayer subsidy funds spent, Pam Taylor from the ECCSCM stated in an email.
Since there is not enough data to show that any BMP has a nutrient-reduction effect, the number of acres enrolled is not equal to the amount of nutrients reduced [best management practice]Taylor stated that MAEAP is always effective in all fields. After decades of MAEAP adoption in the WLEB, it is now effective. [Western Lake Erie Basin]Both total phosphorus, and dissolved reactive (which feeds harmful algal blooms), haven’t decreased at the Raisin. This is a water-quality problem. All actions should be driven based on the water quality itself, with numeric tests and not by ineffective land-use models that do not consider all variables.
Megan Tinsley is the water and agriculture policy manager at MEC. Every year, Lake Erie experiences massive toxic algal Blooms. Yet, the state government continues its failures that don’t lead to real reductions of agricultural runoff pollution. This plan fails to provide an effective strategy to reduce the damage unsustainable agricultural practices cause to our fresh water.
According to Charlotte Jameson (chief policy officer for MEC), Lake Erie pollution from agriculture is the greatest threat to any of the Great Lakes. The Whitmer administration’s Lake Erie plan is a blatant lie in comparison to their claim of clean water. It continues the Snyder administration’s failed practice of heavily relying on voluntary farm practices to reduce agricultural pollution to the lake. The Michigan Agricultural Environmental Assurance program does not reduce runoff pollution and was not intended to improve water quality.
MEC and ECCSCM also questioned plans to include anaerobic digestioners. These facilities are used to treat wastewater from large dairy and hog farms, known as concentrated animal feed operations or CAFOs. The digesters could capture methane that could then be sold to energy producers.
Taylor stated that the waste will still contain phosphorus after digestion.
She also noted that the U.S. Department of Agriculture warns against land application of digester emulsion, as it may pose a higher threat to groundwater and surface contamination than fresh manure. It also warns that the nutrient compound in it will become more soluble, and therefore, are more likely, to move with water.
Taylor stated that there are other science-based programs that can be used to assist farmers in choosing the best management practices. They use primary source data from individual fields and water monitoring results to determine which methods are most effective. Although biodigesters can be used to recycle some of the methane they produce and reduce CAFOs’ energy costs by reducing their energy costs, they are not a water quality improvement tool. Taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for them.
Taylor said that the CAFOs located in Lenawee, Hillsdale, and Hillsdale counties create as much waste than Boston. Taylor is particularly concerned about what to do. She stated that there are some positive parts to the plan, including new rules for winter application of manure, and additional steps to keep manure out our surface water, which ultimately reaches Lake Erie.
The MEC was pleased with the increased focus on wetland conservation and restoration.
From 12:30 p.m. February 7, MDARD, EGLE and DNR host a public webinar about the plan. Register for the webinar at bit.ly/3oEq6Lt.