Springtime = Farm Runoff Time

As Spring soon rolls into the Midwest, the ugly reality of melting snow across hundreds of thousands of manure fertilized fields again manifests. And the picture is not pretty.

In recent years Lake Erie has experienced Harmful Algae Blooms (HABs) larger than the size of New York City. Most of this pollution — which comes in the form of phosphorus — empties into the Western Ohio part of the Lake via the Maumee River basin.

In this Aug. 3, 2014, file photo, the City of Toledo water intake crib is surrounded by algae in Lake Erie, off the shore of Curtice, Ohio. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari, File)

Since the  Cuyahoga River Basin contains over 15%, or nearly 2,000,000 people, of the State of Ohio’s population, it is popular to contend that these cities are responsible for the pollution. But this argument falls flat, according to a report from LakeErieAlgae.com.

The differences in how heavy spring rainfalls affect phosphorus loads in two watersheds – the Maumee and the Cuyahoga – show the different impacts of non-point sources (like the primarily agricultural lands in the Maumee River basin) and point sources (like the urban and industrial lands in the Cuyahoga River basin, which houses nearly 15% of Ohio’s population). Both watersheds occasionally have combined sewer overflows (CSOs), but research suggests these volumes pale in comparison to the river volume during storms.

In short, the Maume River, flowing through the mostly agricultural Maumee River Basin, is responsible for the vast majority of the phosphorus pouring into Lake Erie. And this phosphorus is the key trigger to HABs.

Watch closely as Spring 2017 approaches. HABs will result no matter what but, should heavy rains accompany the annual melting of snow, record HABs will again be reported across not just Lake Erie, but throughout the USA and beyond.

This excellent report from The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) offers numerous touch points on how to curb HABs, like the below:

  • We need increased actions to address nonpoint source pollution, in particular agricultural runoff. This includes increased targeting of Farm Bill and other programs to priority areas, and continuing research to identify key nutrient source areas.

Summer HABs will be explained in no small part by Spring meltdown and precipitation levels.

The connection is indisputable.

Clean Water New Year’s Resolutions

The year 2017 rings in with many of us, all over the planet, resolving to do better.

  • Get in better shape.
  • Become more skilled and a better co-worker on the job.
  • Be more altruistic and a better member of society.

As a planet, becoming better stewards of clean water can be added to this list. But what can we do?

The City of Bellevue, WA, offers terrific suggestions to its residents for reducing contamination to surface water. Pollution from cities like Bellevue is called point pollution, as described below in an excerpt from the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) site:

The term “point source” means any discernible, confined and discrete conveyance, including but not limited to any pipe, ditch, channel, tunnel, conduit, well, discrete fissure, container, rolling stock, concentrated animal feeding operation, or vessel or other floating craft, from which pollutants are or may be discharged.

Importantly, point pollution does not include agricultural storm water discharges and return flows from irrigated agriculture. Otherwise known as farm runoff.

Managing Animal Grazing Helps Prevent Toxic Water Runoff.

Point pollution, often to the surprise of many, also does not account for the vast majority of surface water pollution across the USA and elsewhere. That responsibility lies with agriculture, and farm runoff.

In this 2014 Scientific American article, Lake Erie Basin farm fields are cited as being responsible for at least 60% of the phosphorus now reaching Lake Erie. Phosphorus is the key nutrient feeding the epic algae blooms occurring annually in the lake. This 60% figure is tossed around regularly — in many places the percentage is as high as 80% — wherever and whenever agriculture, algae blooms and phosphorus are discussed.

So, in addition to what Bellevue, WA suggests we as individuals can do to foster clean surface water, let’s encourage agriculture to resolve to follow some guidelines for the new year as well. Priority areas noted below, and the specific practices recommended, come from the Environmental Protection Agency’s guide: National Management Measures to Control Non-point Source Pollution from Agriculture.

Conservation Tillage – leaving crop residue (plant materials from past harvests) on the soil surface reduces runoff and soil erosion, conserves soil moisture, helps keep nutrients and pesticides on the field, and improves soil, water, and air quality;
Crop Nutrient Management – fully managing and accounting for all nutrient inputs helps ensure nutrients are available to meet crop needs while reducing nutrient movements off fields. It also helps prevent excessive buildup in soils and helps protect air quality;
Pest Management – varied methods for keeping insects, weeds, disease, and other pests below economically harmful levels while protecting soil, water, and air quality;
Conservation Buffers – from simple grassed waterways to riparian areas, buffers provide an additional barrier of protection by capturing potential pollutants that might otherwise move into surface waters.
Strategic Irrigation Water Management – reducing non-point source pollution of ground and surface waters caused by irrigation systems;
Grazing Management – minimizing the water quality impacts of grazing and browsing activities on pasture and range lands;
Animal Feeding Operations (AFOs) Management – minimizing impacts of animal feeding operations and waste discharges through runoff controls, waste storage, waste utilization, and nutrient management;
Erosion and Sediment Control – conserving soil and reducing the mass of sediment reaching a water body, protecting both agricultural land and water quality and habitat.

The new year has arrived. Here’s hoping it will be a good one for everyone — starting with the water we share.

Donald Trump – coming clean.

Ok. So Donald Trump staged the greatest upset in US political history with his election as the 45th President of the United States. Some are happy. Some are sad. As usual, and I suspect unfortunately, about this US citizens are split 50-50.

Politics, grants, and fundraising for Clean Water Warrior (CWW) aside, what does the election of Donald Trump mean for clean water initiatives across the USA?

Presently, the news is not good. But this may change.

Donald Trump must lead charge on clean water
Donald Trump must lead charge on clean water

The Not Good News

On clean water pollution and Harmful Algae Blooms (HABs), it is 100% certain Donald Trump does not know what he’s talking about. Case in point: because it is a hot-spot for clean water issues, we often reference Lake Okeechobee in FL. As it turns out, when President-Elect Trump campaigned in FL, he presented his (ignorant, and incorrect) opinion on how to resolve the problems with the beleaguered lake:

“My administration will address important environmental priorities like the Everglades and ensure quality water all across America, including the fixing of water problems like Lake Okeechobee,” Trump saidaccording to an article from the Miami New Times. “It’s amazing. You know, Lake Okeechobee, they’re always letting the water out. Do you ever notice we always have droughts? They’re always letting the water out. I said keep it in! We won’t have any droughts.”

I could explain why he is wrong, completely wrong, with this non-solution. But I will instead reference Dale Gawlik, professor and director of Florida Atlantic University’s Environmental Science Program, an expert who says Trump’s idea will hurt Lake O.

“If you were completely uncaring about the ecology of Lake Okeechobee and the fish and birds that live there and just view it as a big holding tank of water, what he’s saying could have some merit,” Gawlik told the New Times.

“The lake can’t go above a certain level because of the structural integrity of the lake, so you’re capped out there. We’re already almost there. What (Trump’s) suggesting is you throw out all the ecological importance, which is tied to a lot of tourism and industry there, and just look at drought alone.”

Ignorance is bliss and, apparently, not a hindrance to getting elected President of the United States. Even in Florida where, despite his zero knowledge about the single most important ecological piece of land and water IN THE STATE, he won the electoral votes.

So … knowing almost nothing about the national clean water crisis is the “not good” news. But, hold on. With President-Elect Trump there IS good news. Really good news.

He is building his platform on improving the infrastructure of the United States. Making it the best in the world, he says.

The Good News

If Donald Trump can be held accountable for words spoken and vows pledged during his successful campaign, infrastructure improvements sit atop his to-do list.

As each of these projects commence via a cooperative effort of Federal and State government, and private industry, clean water will at times be an unavoidable part of the planning.

Though they have nothing to do with Trump, exciting clean water infrastructure programs are already underway via support from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Can we expect even more attention and funding like this during President Trump’s term?

Why not?

The man staged the greatest political upset in American history. If he is smart enough to do that, he can certainly learn the basics about HABs, and how to combat them.

I believe he will and, if so, the USA will lead the way in curbing in some places, and eliminating in others, HAB activity.

Leading the way in providing solutions for cleaner, safer water.

That will be a huge step in Trump’s mission to make America great again.

 

 

 

When HABs Strike … and Why.

Harmful Algae Blooms (HABs), which often come in the form of blue-green algae – the scientific name being Cyanobacteria, are a true problem to the health of freshwater and saltwater bodies across the planet. And a problem that has for years been recognized.

Although scientists are still seeking to learn more about HABs, rules of thumb do prevail. And, to boot, these rules are predictable and fairly straightforward.

This comes from a page provided by the WI Department of Natural Resources:

According to scientific literature, cyanobacteria most commonly occur in late summer and early fall when water temperatures reach 72°-80° F. At these temperatures, cyanobacteria grow rapidly and may create a bloom within a few days.”

In addition, excessive levels of nutrients must be added to the mix. And that means phosphorus, as noted on this page from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

NASA Image: Great Britain Red-Tide
NASA Image: Great Britain Red-Tide

These conditions help explain why warm-weather areas like Florida, with robust agricultural industries, are particularly vulnerable to the constant, and sometimes debilitating, reappearances of HABs.

Not much can be done about the weather but, as has been noted many times in this blog — quoting national and international experts on the subject — phosphorus runoff from agricultural operations CAN be reduced via better land management.

And that’s a start ….