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Agricultural Solutions for runoff, nutrients and water quality

In the magazine SOIL published by Forester Magazines, there was an article in the June 29, 2017 issue.  The article discusses how the agricultural community is helping protect water quality through different grants, partnerships and on-farm actions.

 

This is the second section from the article titled Agricultural Solutions: The connection between nutrients, runoff and water quality.  This section of the article (copied below) is titled “Water Knows No Boundaries”.

[From SOIL, FORESTERMAGAZINES, June 29, 2017 issue (http://foresternetwork.com/erosion-control-magazine/ec-soil/ec-erosion-control-permitting/agricultural-solutions/)]

When Ohio’s infamous Cuyahoga River caught fire in the 1970s, the wake-up call to address pollution was heard around the world. Today, thanks to the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and other national and local legislation, the Great Lakes, and Lake Erie in particular, are enjoying something of a renaissance.

But problems of nutrient-laden runoff, bacteria, and invasive species continue to plague the world’s largest freshwater sources.

In 2016, the city of Toledo temporarily lost its drinking water supply because of harmful levels of toxins from an algal bloom near its intake in Lake Erie. Despite significant improvements and an extensive menu of nutrient-reduction programs, agricultural runoff still plagues the Maumee River feeding into Lake Erie. Responding in mid-March to the proposed cuts to EPA and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), Ohio Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown said the cuts “will cost Ohio jobs and jeopardize public health by putting the well-being of Lake Erie at risk.”

Republican Senator Rob Portman said, “I have long championed the GLRI program, and I am continuing to do everything I can to protect and preserve Lake Erie including preserving this critical program and its funding.”

According to EPA, the cost of toxic algal blooms—which includes the need for increased filtration, loss of fish populations, and lost income from recreation—dents the national economy by $2 billion. It’s not a one-sided issue as Canadian waters are affected as well.

Mark Burrows, physical scientist and project manager with the International Joint Commission (IJC) in Windsor, ON, comments on the progress from sustained Great Lakes funding from the bi-national partnership between the US and Canada. The work of both countries is guided by the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA), most recently revised in 2012, which provides a framework for US and Canadian programs to restore and protect the Great Lakes as well as reporting and assessment of Great Lakes activities.

“Areas where the governments have made significant progress include restoring and de-listing several areas of concern by funding cleanup operations to improve water quality, remove toxic sediment, restore habitat and fish populations, and reduce the levels of contamination in fish and wildlife,” says Burrows. “Action by the US to build permanent electrical and physical barriers to prevent the migration of invasive species, especially the Asian Carp, should be applauded. Grants from the GLRI have been crucial in funding these efforts that now keep invasive species out of the lakes in areas where rivers and canals create a pathway to the Great Lakes—in Lake Michigan around the Chicago area and Lake Erie through the Maumee River.”

Burrows notes that GLRI funding is channeled through EPA sources, which help coordinate federal and state programs to ensure there is no duplication of efforts. There are multiple sets of water-quality requirements at the federal, state, and local levels that impact many segments of the Great Lakes community, including maritime shipping regulations. “It can be confusing, and this coordination of the use of US GLRI funds is important. Canada and the US also coordinate implementation of the GLWQA through the Great Lakes Executive Committee led by EPA and Environment Canada—an important role to ensure everyone is “rowing in the same direction,” he says.

He notes that because the IJC is an independent body, set up in 1909 to avoid binational water disputes over the 5,500 miles of border, the commission’s job “is not to comment on specific domestic legislation, regulations, or budgets—just results. What we can talk about is our assessment of the progress of government programs and measures to meet the objectives of the GLWQA.” He says that the commission recently invited public input on its Triennial Assessment of Progress (TAP) report. In the report, the IJC commended many successes under the GLWQA, including setting targets for Lake Erie phosphorous reduction. Nonetheless, the report also notes that “the water quality of western and central Lake Erie is unsatisfactory and unacceptable,” and “new mandatory protections should supplement voluntary initiatives to reduce phosphorous loadings.”

The take-home message, Burrows says, is that if enough public comment comes in over the report findings, it may potentially strengthen the case for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and encourage a sustainable EPA budget as it comes to a Congressional vote. This would allow the progress to continue to address threats to water quality, and to restore and protect the Great Lakes for generations to come.