Lake Erie: The Gift that Keeps On Giving

Each year the Ohio Federation of Soil and Water Conservation Districts holds Winter Meetings throughout the state. These meetings provide opportunities for regional SWCD board and staff members to learn more about topics that focus on internal issues, as well as timely conservation issues.

This year’s meeting featured Dr. Jeff Reutter, Director, Ohio Sea Grant College Program, Stone Laboratory, and Center for Lake Erie Area Research, and Great Lakes Aquatic Ecosystem Research Consortium at The Ohio State University. Dr. Reutter has spent over forty years studying Lake Erie and he provided great information about the state-of-the-lake, specifically the current issue of harmful algal blooms.

Harmful algal blooms became a significant concern in 2011 when Lake Erie’s shallow Western Basin was covered with a slimy green algal bloom--a bloom that reached the western edge of the Central Basin and the area of Ohio with the largest population. Studies have determined that the increased algal growth is due to excess nitrogen and phosphorus running off the land, with the greatest quantities coming from the Maumee River basin.

The excess of nutrients contributed to high toxins in the water that banned 400,000 people in the Toledo area from drinking the water earlier this year. Dr. Reutter stated that Lake Erie provides drinking water to 2.8 million people. Imagine if all of those 2.8 people in the Lake Erie watershed did not have access to clean and safe water. Wow!

Drinking water is extremely important, but Lake Erie provides much more than that. It provides water for recreation, business, and serves as an important habitat. In fact, Lake Erie accounts for a mere 2% of the fresh water in the Great Lakes system, but provides a suitable habitat that supports 50% of the fish found in the Great Lakes (the exact opposite of Lake Superior).

Back in the 1960’s, Lake Erie was a poster child for pollution. It was declared “dead”, but fortunately the lake’s shallowness allowed it to restore itself more quickly. According to Dr. Reutter, we can achieve significant water quality improvements in a relatively short time once we begin implementing best practices for pollution prevention. In Lake Erie’s Central Basin, Cuyahoga SWCD, along with other Northeast Ohio SWCD’s ispromoting and implementing best practices for pollution prevention. Clearly, immediate actions are needed to protect the most shallow and prolific of all of the Great Lakes.

As the New Year approaches, now is a perfect time to resolve to be a better steward of Lake Erie by adopting some environmentally-friendly New Year resolutions:

  • No dumping and only rain down storm drains
  • Reduce the use of toxic cleaners
  • Plan to have lawn and garden soil tested in the spring
  • Compost kitchen scraps for a bounty of organic material for your garden
  • Reduce, Recycle and Reuse

In the meantime, have a happy, safe and environmentally-friendly holiday season! To review Dr. Ruetter's presentation, go to http://ohioseagrant.osu.edu/people/jeffrey-reutter/

P.S. If you have leaves in your yard, you can help improve your soil fertility and reduce the need for fertilizers. Leaves can be used alone as mulch but tend to blow away in windy locations and can be washed from beds during heavy rain showers. Leaves do best as a mulching material when they’re shredded. If you can shred those leaves and use them as mulch around trees and shrubs, you will help your garden maintain soil moisture, inhibit weed germination and growth, which reduces the need for herbicides, and help to keep the soil temperature warmer this winter.

So give yourself the gift of saving money as you recycle a natural resource. Happy Holidays!

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