Sitting in Port Washington, WI, overlooking the port which empties into a beautiful blue Lake Michigan, the suggestion of an appearance of algae blooms gains little interest. Lake Michigan is deep and cold. Port Washington provides an adequate sewage system, and the relatively small amount of nearby farms only contributes what appears to be a manageable level of damaging nutrients.
In an outstanding report by the National Wildlife Foundation (NWF), Tainter’s plight is well-documented. And is held up as an example of what, increasingly, is becoming a not-so-unusual occurrence across not just the Great Lakes Regi
on and the area’s inland lakes, but throughout the USA.
The NWF identifies three issues that must be addressed, to better combat America’s algae bloom crisis:
1. No federal agency currently tracks lake closures or health warnings nationally.
2. Few economic studies have assessed the national cost of freshwater HABs.
3. Not all states monitor or report the presence of algae-related toxins in freshwaters.
ToxicAlgaeNews, a superb online publication provided by non-profit publisher Resource Media, has stepped up to help cover bloom outbreaks by-state.
So far, the improved research and tracking has not helped Tainter Lake. But with progress being made, perhaps the time will come.
I was visiting Elkhart Lake, WI recently, with the notion that this may be a sensible re-location spot for Clean Water Warrior. There is no doubt, the lake and the community are in many respects idyllic. A too-small, yet quaint village, abutting a beautiful world-class lake — Elkhart Lake is truly a destination for freshwater fans. And, as it turns out, race fans. The community’s Road America venue brings in over 100,000 people every racing weekend throughout the summer months. Not bad for a town with a population of 967.
Elkhart Lake has some terrific tourist history, too, dating back to the days of Al Capone. But its greatest asset may be its spring-fed water source, its incredible depth of nearly 120 feet, and the absence of farming or industry on its shores. Private residences, most valued at over $1,000,000, with responsible, updated septic systems surround the lake. This almost ensures that Elkhart Lake will remain clean and algae free for years to come.
Contrast that with poor Fox Lake, in Fox Lake WI — a neighbor less than 60 miles to the Southwest. Fed by creeks that empty into it after meandering through industrial parks and farms, and possessing a depth of no more than 20 feet, Fox Lake is almost doomed to its status as one of Wisconsin’s most at-risk lakes. What can be done to improve Fox Lake’s lot? Start with the farms. Wherever a 75-foot grass buffer does not exist between cropped land and creeks, create that space. Extend dramatically the distance between farms, and the lake itself. And eliminate any yard pesticide usage by lake dwellers.
Are these suggestions a solution all by themselves? No. Some conditions will simply always work against Fox Lake. But wherever implemented, they cannot hurt.
To date, Clean Water Warrior (CWW) has largely discussed issues with toxic algae blooms and dead zones in the Great Lakes region. Farm runoff, for which it is the mission of CWW to reduce, and its catastrophic impact on freshwater, has been the subject of most CWW blogging.
But this is not to say that algae blooms are limited to the Great Lakes area, or freshwater. In fact, Alaska, Washington State, Oregon and, of course, the Western Coast of Canada are all struggling with the challenges of unusually warm ocean water becoming infested with algae.
In this report on a crab season in crisis, from the Weather Channel, we see that ocean saltwater, too, is not impervious to the damaging effects of algae. Solutions to the problems blooms create for the crab fishing industry are not clear — or even possible, for that matter, given that the blooms may be the result of warmer waters resulting from climate change.
Vigil is vice president and Northwest Environmental Hydrology leader at ESA, and directs a team toward science-based solutions in watershed management and restoration. Their aim is to provide a comprehensive, integrated approach to complex water and natural resource projects, where input from several disciplines is essential.