Michigan awarded over $800,000 to preserve the Lake Erie Basin

Courtesy:  Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development

LANSING — Protecting and preserving Michigan’s water resources is one of Governor Snyder’s top priorities and of critical importance to the state’s food and agriculture community.

On Monday, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) was awarded an $807,000 Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) grant by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to help protect and preserve the western Lake Erie Basin (WLEB) from toxic algal blooms. The grants will be used to provide technical assistance to farmers in western Lake Erie watersheds to reduce phosphorus runoff that contributes to harmful algal blooms as well as improve measurement of phosphorus loads in Lake Erie tributaries.

In early August, the city of Toledo issued a “Do Not Drink” order for almost 500,000 people in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan when a drinking water treatment plant was adversely impacted by microcystin, a toxin generated by a harmful algal bloom in western Lake Erie. In addition to generating toxins that pose risks to human health, harmful algal blooms contribute to low-oxygen “dead zones” in the deeper waters of Lake Erie and harm shoreline economies.

“I appreciate EPA recognizing the value of a voluntary, proactive program like the Michigan Agricultural Environmental Assurance Program and its importance to mitigating on-farm environmental risks, and the critical role Michigan’s conservation districts are playing in protecting the Western Lake Erie Basin for future generations,” said Jamie Clover Adams, MDARD Director. “Although Michigan only represents 15 percent of the land base in the western Lake Erie basin, we will continue our solid commitment of working in partnership with our farmers, conservation districts and others to reduce potential agricultural impacts in the basin.”

“The Great Lakes are Michigan’s crown jewels, and we remain committed to doing all we can to protect water quality,” said DEQ Director Dan Wyant. “Michigan has made tremendous strides in reducing harmful phosphorus in our waters. We can and will do more, and the key to success is partnerships. Support from our federal partners is critical, and this grant will bear real results.”

The GLRI funding allows Michigan to keep four trained conservation district technicians whose funding was set to end September 30 on the ground in the basin. These techs, in addition to three others, work one-on-one with farmers to identify and reduce on-farm practices which could pose a threat to the environment, as well as connecting them with U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Bill practices and U.S. Natural Resources Conservation programs.

Key accomplishments and long-term goals:

The Michigan Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program surpassed 75,000 acres of enrollment marking a significant milestone in the program’s 13-year history.

  • Of the 75,000 enrolled acres, approximately 16,000 are established permanent grasslands, 21,000 are restored wetlands, 38,000 are filter strips, and 50 acres are utilizing sediment retention control structures. The combination of these practices has led to a significant reduction of sediment and phosphorus run-off into the Western Lake Erie Basin, Saginaw Bay and Lake Macatawa.
  • Seek the elimination of the sunset on state MAEAP/groundwater funding.
  • Work with Michigan agribusiness to build a close linkage between MAEAP and the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Program to enhance agriculture’s capacity to reduce nutrient loss to our waterways.
  • Continue the science-based approach to the application of manure on snow covered or frozen ground, limiting application to only those locations with a low to very low MARI index rating only when necessary and on no slopes greater than 3 percent for liquid manure nor 6 percent for solid manure.
  • Optimize phosphorus removal at five key wastewater treatment plants in the watershed. Optimization means fine-tuning plant operations to minimize phosphorus in the treated effluent.
  • Reduce agricultural and non-point source discharges to the Maumee River watershed.
  • Cease the open water disposal of dredged Toledo Harbor sediments.
  • Develop science-based understanding of the role of invasive mussels in the basin ecology and how they impact cycling of phosphorus. Support the evaluation of emerging technologies to control invasive mussels.