Northwest USA Has Own Algae Bloom Troubles

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.

Testing Algae From The Pacific Northwest
Testing Algae From The Pacific Northwest

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.

No-Till Farming A Viable Piece To Cleaner Water & Better Farming

I just got back from a trip to Winona, MN, a lovely college town along the Mississippi River. Located in the southeastern part of MN, Winona itself – because it is a river town – does not look like a community influenced by agriculture. But it is.

Farms abound in the areas around it, and according to research conducted by North Carolina State University (NC State), the mighty Mississippi is prone to the runoff that these farms can create.

No-till farming in MN.

The effect upon the Gulf of Mexico is, to put it mildly, damaging.

But as always, better farming practices are out there. Along with the grass buffers that have been presented here in previous blogs, no-till farming is for some farmers (and environmentalists) another exciting option.

It is working for Winona area farmer Bill Dunlay, according to this 2012 (dated, yes, but still pertinent) report from the Mississippi River – Winona Watershed News.

Dunlay’s land is hilly, and susceptible to erosion. Commenting on the benefits of no-till, Dunlay gets to the point. “It saves a ton,” he says. Dunlay notes he saves on fuel, equipment costs, time and soil.

All while losing nothing in yields, he says.

It is widely known that no-till farming dramatically reduces soil erosion and, because of improved water retention, crops actually require much less watering per acre. This is a terrific benefit for areas that experience less-than-normal rainfall in a given year.

Dunlay says that no-till may not be for every farmer, but it is worth a serious look for many. He has converted all 250 of his acres to the no-till method, and the results speak for themselves.



Harmful Algae Bloom Operational Forecast System – Perfect For Great Lakes

468px-NOAA_logoThe National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAAHarmful Algae Bloom (HAB) Operational Forecast System (OFS), which monitors bloom activity in the Gulf of Mexico from FL through TX, is working its way into the Great Lakes region.

Already, NOAA offers some OFS capabilities, the complete list of which appears via this link, but HAB monitoring is not yet a part.

Look for that to change and, though the HAB monitoring may have limited impact in area that already does a good job of monitoring bacteria levels such as E.coli (see: Wisconsin Beach Health), the extra involvement from NOAA certainly underscores the tremendously negative impact HAB have in freshwater and saltwater ecosystems alike.

Tricky Connection to Climate Change & Farm Runoff

Projections for massive algae blooms in Lake Erie are once again grim for 2016, and a part of the problem is something that cannot be controlled: climate change.

According to this article in Toledo Blade, research from the American Geophysical Union suggests that blooms in Lake Erie may double in intensity over the next 100 years, even if nutrient runoff from farms is reduced by 40%.

Algae Blooms in IA, 2011.

Given the troubling contribution climate change makes to algae blooms in Lake Erie, and across the planet, a question begs answering which secondary research here has not yet produced.

How much does climate change account for the creation of algae blooms?

Clearly, the relationship between nutrient runoff and climate change is profound. Runoff can be controlled. Climate change cannot. If there is a sweet spot that will secure fresh surface water across the planet, despite the changes, it must be found. Apparently, reductions in nutrient runoff by 40% will not be enough.

What, then, will be? Without a deep and longstanding commitment between farmers and entities (like Clean Water Warrior) that can help them implement best-practices, this question will unfortunately go unanswered.