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.
According to a July 29, 2015 AP from release from The Blade newspaper out of Toledo, OH, toxic algae blooms are reappearing as expected in Lake Erie, and the usual suspects are believed to be the cause: climate change, combined sewage overflows, malfunctioning septic systems, and agricultural runoff.
So which of these sources is likely to be the greatest contributor to the problem?
Research suggests that agricultural runoff — when manure spread on fields or in barns flows into lakes, rivers and streams after rains or thaws — is by far the largest source. Over 60%, according to this recent article from Scientific American.
Something can be done — such as assisting farmers in implementing better land management practices — to curb this harmful, toxic runoff. And it must. Preferably sooner than later.
Not the largest of the Great Lakes, but still plenty big, why does this poor body of water get hit so hard every summer — almost covered with algae — when largely unregulated agricultural runoff dumps tons of waste into the rivers that empty into this lake?
Lake Superior, by contrast, is the greatest of the Great Lakes, and almost so clean that if one were to go far enough off shore, she/he MIGHT be able to drop in a cup and drink up.
Try that in Lake Erie at the height of the algae bloom and it is very possible she/he will die.
So — what gives?
Well, for starters Lake Erie has far more people, industry, and — perhaps most importantly — agriculture around it. But that’s not all.
Lake Erie is shallow. On average only about 60 feet deep. Lake Superior? 10 times deeper. At least.
In fact, to fully empty Lake Superior and replace it with totally new freshwater takes 191 years. Lake Erie? Two and one-half years.
It is no wonder then, that poor Lake Erie chokes on algae every summer.
But here’s the encouraging news. With effective agricultural land management, a lot can be accomplished quickly, to stop the farm runoff that is pouring into the lake.
Get to the worst spots first, make a major impact on reducing the waste, and poor Lake Erie isn’t so poor anymore. In fact, it cleans up really fast.
And everyone who lives around it loves the abundant benefits a healthy Lake Erie provides.
Armed with indisputable research, and best practice land management approaches that are clear-cut and effective, there is every chance that these devastating, oxygen-sapping, aquatic life killing blooms can rapidly become a thing of the past.