Algal blooms around Lake Erie has been a constant bane for many residents from both the United States and Canada who live near the lake’s shoreline. Ontario has investigated the effectivity of stormwater management in reducing phosphorus deposits into the lakes, but it has faced significant challenges. They have yet to determine how to monitor, quantify, and report the various projects that aim to address the phosphorus levels to have a better understanding of their effectivity.
Although municipal water treatment facilities have improved over the years in curbing phosphorus runoff, the attention has now shifted to other sources of this phenomenon. Runoff from rural, agricultural, and urban areas have been identified as new contributors to algal blooms. It has become so significant that it may endanger the water table and contaminate the drinking water of communities.
Rapid urbanization, for example, has been a major factor in the rise of phosphorus levels in the water. This is because construction sites often use large loads of sediment and phosphorus which then are washed out into the sewage system contaminating the waterways. Erosion rates at construction sites have been estimated to be around 3 to 100 times greater than that of crop lands.
Golf courses are also largely responsible for this rise because of fertilizer use on their fairways which are not regulated in any way. Only 5% of Ontario’s golf courses have opted to be certified under a voluntary program offered by the Audubon Society to minimize nutrient run-off and monitor phosphorus. This is a far cry from other places like the state of Virginia, which required all golf courses to implement complete nutrient management plans, including soil tests.
Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner Dianne Saxe states that “good ideas need trial and error phases, and overnight results are not to be expected. But as phosphorus control programs roll out, they will need the rigour of clear targets, and strong, ongoing evaluation.” Saxe has mentioned that the smaller lakes have experienced a significant increase in algal blooms since the 1990s, as reported by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change.
If the programs fail to reduce rising phosphorus levels, there could be a water crisis similar to the one that happened to the City of Toledo, Ohio in 2014. The algal bloom was so severe that toxins began to contaminate the drinking water of the city leaving 500,000 people without safe, potable drinking water for days. If left unabated, algal blooms can also affect tourism, real estate property values, and other sectors that rely on clean water. What makes matters worse is that these blooms seem to be extending for longer periods and lasting to as late as November.
Although Ontario has implemented several programs to reduce phosphorus runoff, there hasn’t been any way of measuring their effectiveness. Saxe says that “the Government of Ontario’s preference so far for addressing phosphorus in runoff has been through voluntary and unevaluated programs, with questionable effectiveness. The government must apply new financial, regulatory and land use planning tools.”
It is important for Ontario to succeed because it signed an agreement with the governors of Michigan and Ohio in 2015 to collectively reduce the total load of phosphorus entering Lake Erie’s western basin by 40% in 10 years. If it wants any chance of achieving this goal, there needs to be a system for effective monitoring and enforcement of regulations to reduce phosphorus levels from all possible sources.
If you are a municipality in Ontario and in need of a biosolids management solution, please feel free to contact us on 1 (877) 479-1388.