Great Lakes Watershed Nutrient Management:
How should we manage phosphorus loads in the Western Basin of Lake Erie?
Reducing phosphorus loads and controlling harmful algae blooms in Lake Erie will require the coordinated effort of thousands of stakeholders to improve the quality of shared water resources.
Eutrophication, most often attributed to excess nutrients (primarily phosphorus), is an increasingly common problem in coastal marine and freshwater ecosystems. The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA) between the US and Canada in 1972 and the Federal Clean Water Act of 1972, together, led to great water quality improvements in Lake Erie. However, the decade from 2010 to 2019 saw increases in the extent and duration of harmful algae blooms and hypoxic (low-oxygen) conditions. This increased eutrophication threatens human health and aquatic life and leads to drinking water contamination and fish kills. In an effort to mitigate these effects, the binational 2012 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement led governments to establishi a target of reducing phosphorus loads in Lake Erie by 40% of their 2008 levels by 2025. The management and implementation of conservation efforts involves many stakeholders, and how this effort should be coordinated remains largely unclear. Efforts thus far include federal funding for the implementation of agricultural best management practices, attempts to designate and regulate distressed watersheds, and innovative water quality trading programs.