Michigan Sen. Stabenow: Stop the Asian Carp

  • Michigan Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow says we need to move quickly to stop the threat of the Asian Carp on the Great Lakes' eco-system. (Photo: Kate Gardner, Flickr)

By now, you’ve probably heard all about the Asian Carp.

The invasive species is making its way up the Mississippi River and there’s concern that if the fish are able to get into the Great Lakes that they could drastically change the waters’ eco-system.

Michigan Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow and Michigan Republican Congressman Dave Camp introduced the Stop the Asian Carp Act last year. The legislation required the Army Corps of Engineers to create a plan to permanently separate the Mississippi River and Lake Michigan.

Transcript

Stopping the Carp

I spoke with Senator Stabenow this week and asked her where things stand with the Army Corps of Engineers’ plan. “The Army Corps of Engineers is working on a plan to give us specific recommendations on how to separate the waters… The problem is they say they won’t have this done until 2015. And, so, what we’re trying to do is push them to get this done much quicker,” Stabenow explains.

The Mississippi River: Not the only entry point for the Carp

A lot of attention has been paid to the Mississippi River as the main entry point where the Carp could get into the Great Lakes. But, Stabenow explains, “We also, now, are looking more broadly than just the Illinois River and the Mississippi River going into Lake Michigan. We’ve found that there have been some fish seen going across Indiana – in the Wabash River. At certain times, during the year, it connects to the Maumee River in Ohio and then actually goes into Lake Erie. And, so, this is a real challenge for us. There is, I believe, nineteen different tributaries and ways to get into the Great Lakes – that’s my biggest worry.”

Chicago shipping interests

Recently, we’ve been hearing more about the idea of permanently separating the waterways rather than a temporary solution. “I believe that we ought to be closing the [Chicago] locks until we get to a permanent solution. But, there is a lot of pushback from Illinois and Chicago,” Stabenow says. Those who work in commercial shipping in Chicago are against the idea of closing the locks. They say it would hurt their multi-million dollar business interests. “Personally, I’d say the other side’s interests are – not that we don’t respect them – but they’re small in terms of economic impact compared to what could happen having the fish go into the Great Lakes.

How to pay for it?

A question remains regarding closure of the waterways: who would pay for a permanent solution?  

“No one knows exactly how much it would cost to shut down the Chicago shipping canals and replace them with something else. But, the price-tag would be big, it could run into the billions of dollars, “Rick Pluta, Lansing Bureau Chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network explains.

Michigan Republican Congressman Dave Camp, Chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee told Pluta, “I think there’s enough money certainly in the Great Lakes Restoration Fund that we could use to help with that problem.”

As Pluta explains, the Great Lakes Restoration Fund is used for, “Great Lakes cleanup, dredging and pollution prevention. Camp’s idea could divert funding from those purposes. But, environmentalist groups say restoring a physical separation of the two water systems, and eliminating the danger of non-native species back and forth between them, just might be worth it."

New Ship Has Balance Without Ballast

  • A diagram of the ballast-free ship (Photo courtesy of Professor Michael Parsons)

Cargo ships move sea life around the world.
Moving aquatic life from one port to another can cause
environmental havoc. Lester Graham reports there’s a
new idea that could nearly eliminate the problem of
transporting sea life to foreign ports:

Transcript

Cargo ships move sea life around the world.
Moving aquatic life from one port to another can cause
environmental havoc. Lester Graham reports there’s a
new idea that could nearly eliminate the problem of
transporting sea life to foreign ports:

There is an invasion of every major port on the globe.

“Today, the world’s shores are under attack. Armies of aliens are secretly invading our coasts.”

If this video, Invaders from the Sea, from the International Maritime
Organization sounds a little over-dramatic, it’s really not. Invaders from far-flung
corners of the world are brought in by commerce. In their travels, cargo ships pick up the
hitchhikers.

Those hitchhikers can be fish, mussels – aquatic bugs of all kinds. They can become
pests. Out-compete native species for food and space. They can destroy the
native ecosystems and often damage the economic well-being of people.

Here’s how it happens. Ocean-going cargo ships dock at a foreign port. They pump in
water for ballast to keep the ship stable. They also pump in some of the living things in
the water. When they arrive at the destination port, they can pump out that water and
the critters that were sucked up with it.

In the US, ports from Chesapeake Bay to San Francisco have been invaded. But,
the Great Lakes have been hit especially hard by invasive species.

Michael Parsons is a professor of naval architecture at the University of Michigan. He
says when foreign ships were able to come in from the Atlantic and travel as far as
inland as Duluth, Minnesota; they brought a lot of invaders with them.

“With the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in the ‘50’s, that led to increased
introduction of non-indigenous species such as the zebra mussel, and the round goby, and
the ruffe, and the various smaller creatures that have been brought in to the Great Lakes.”

Those creatures have damaged the ecosystem of the Great Lakes. And they’ve cost the economy.
By one Environmental Protection Agency estimate about five-billion dollars a year.

Parsons and his colleagues have been working to design a ship that has no need for
ballast. In the lab, a scale model has been tested in a long pool. Instead of pumping
water in and out of the ballasts, the water would flow through big
tubes that run the length of the ship.

“And so, that’ll create a slow flow through these trunks so that they’re always swept
clean of foreign water.”

“A ship like that is just what we need in the Great Lakes.”

Andy Buchsbaum runs the Great Lakes office of the environmental group, the National
Wildlife Federation.

“If you eliminate the need for ballast water altogether, then you’re eliminating the vast
majority of invasive species introductions that come in through the discharge of ballast.”

The ballast-free ship design is creating some excitement. Even the shipping industry is
paying attention because the ship also is more fuel efficient.

If someone decides to actually build the ballast-free cargo ship, it’ll be a while before
the first one is on the high seas.

Allegra Cangelosi has been working on the ballast and invasive species problem for
close to a decade. She’s a policy analyst with the Northeast-Midwest Institute.

“I think it’s a wonderful development. I don’t think there’s going to be any one answer
for all ships plying all waters throughout the globe. However, the more good answers
that are out there to choose from, the better for the environment.”

Some of those choices are filtering ballast water or killing organisms in the ballast with
chemicals. Those systems are expensive. And since fuel isn’t getting any cheaper, that
might make a more fuel-efficient ballast-free ship attractive.

For The Environment Report, this is Lester Graham.

Related Links

Big Ships Required to Flush

  • A ship discharging its ballast water (Photo courtesy of the US Geological Survey)

Ships should be bringing in fewer unwanted
pests into the Great Lakes. Both Canada and the
U-S are now requiring ships to flush out their
ballast water tanks before entering the lakes.
Tracy Samilton reports:

Transcript

Ships should be bringing in fewer unwanted pests into the Great
Lakes. Both Canada and the U.S. are now requiring ships to flush out their
ballast water tanks before entering the lakes. Tracy Samilton reports:

Ships need to take on ballast water to keep them stable. When they pump in
water from freshwater foreign ports, they also suck up pests.

Since 2006,
Canada has required ships to flush their tanks with salty ocean water
before entering the Great Lakes. The U.S. adopted the requirement at the
start of this year.

Collister Johnson is with the U.S. side of the St.
Lawrence Seaway, which connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Great
Lakes. He says the rule will eliminate almost 99% of freshwater
pests in ballast tanks.

“If they’re exposed to salt water, especially full strength sea water, they
are effectively killed.”

Samilton: “Why didn’t we do this before?”

Johnson: (laughs) “I don’t know.”

It won’t completely eliminate the problem because some aquatic pests can
still survive in the sediment in the bottom of ballast tanks.

For The Environment Report I’m Tracy Samilton.

Related Links

Interview: Great Lakes Compact

  • Map of the Great Lakes, the basin, and the 8 connecting states. (Photo courtesy of Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, NOAA)

The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Compact is an
agreement to stop shipping water out of the Great Lakes
basin. But all eight Great Lakes states and Congress
must approve it first. Lester Graham talked with Peter
Annin, the author of the book “The Great Lakes Water
Wars.” Annin says some of the states have been reluctant
to approve the treaty because Michigan has an image of saying
‘no’ to water requests from other states while putting
almost no water restrictions on its own towns and businesses:

Transcript

The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Compact is an
agreement to stop shipping water out of the Great Lakes
basin. But all eight Great Lakes states and Congress
must approve it first. Lester Graham talked with Peter
Annin, the author of the book “The Great Lakes Water
Wars.” Annin says some of the states have been reluctant
to approve the treaty because Michigan has an image of saying
‘no’ to water requests from other states while putting
almost no water restrictions on its own towns and businesses:

Peter Annin: “Michigan has been a laggard in monitoring and regulating its own domestic water
use. And so it’s seen by some other states as being somewhat hypocritical in the water debate.
For example, Minnesota, which is the most progressive domestically, if you’re going to withdraw
water from the Great Lakes at 10,000 gallons a day or more, you have to get a permit. In the state
of Michigan you can go up to 5 million gallons of water withdrawn from Lake Michigan per day
before you have to get a permit. 10,000 gallons in Minnesota, 5 million gallons in Michigan, and
this is what is causing tension between Michigan and some of the other Great Lakes states.”

Lester Graham: “Lets assume that all 8 Great Lakes states do pass this within the next year or
two, Congress then has to pass it – and many of the members of Congress are in those thirsty
Southwestern states. What happens then?”

Annin: “Yeah, that’s a really good point. We have to remember that the compact is just a piece of
paper until it passes all 8 Great Lakes legislatures and then is adopted by Congress. And there
are a lot of concerns among the general public, given that we have these dry-land states that have
a lot of problems with water perhaps opposing the Great Lakes compact. I’m not so certain that
that’s going to be an issue, because those states also have a lot federal water projects that come
up for renewal all the time that require the Great Lakes Congressmen to sign off on. And I’m not
sure they’re in a position, given how precious and important water is for them to survive on a daily
basis down there, that they’re really that interested in getting into a water fight with the Senators
and Congressmen in the Great Lakes basin. But, we’ll see.”

Graham: “I’ve looked at different models for getting Great Lakes water down to the Southwest,
and economically, they just don’t seem feasible. It would be incredibly expensive to try to get
Great Lakes water to the Southwest states, yet, State Legislators say again and again ‘oh no,
they have a plan, they know how it will happen.’ And as water becomes more valuable, they could
make it happen. How likely is it that there would be a canal or pipe and pumping stations built to
divert Great Lakes water, if this compact doesn’t pass?”

Annin: “It looks highly unlikely today, for the reasons that you just mentioned. It takes an
extraordinary amount of money to send water uphill, which is what would be to the West, and we’d
certainly have to cross mountain ranges if you’re even going to send it a shorter distance, to the
Southeast. To the point where it would be cheaper for many of these places to, even though it’s
expensive, to desalinate water from the ocean and then send it to inland places. But, you know, a
lot of water experts in the United States say ‘never say never’, because the value of fresh, potable
water is probably going to skyrocket in this century. We’re leaving the century of oil; we’re entering
the century of water. But, for right now, you’re absolutely right, it is extraordinary cost-prohibitive.
But let me say one other footnote here, it’s hard to find a federal water project in this country that
actually made economic sense.”

Related Links

Momentum for Great Lakes Compact?

  • Color satellite photo produced from NOAA-14 AVHRR satellite imagery. (Photo courtesy of Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, NOAA)

A delay in the approval of the Great Lakes water
diversion compact might be ending. Chuck Quirmbach reports:

Transcript

A delay in the approval of the Great Lakes Water
Diversion Compact might be ending. Chuck Quirmbach reports:

The compact, agreed to by eight Great Lakes Governors and Canadian Provincial Leaders, aims
to discourage other areas from seeking Great Lakes water. Four states have ratified the
agreement. But various disputes in Wisconsin over water conservation and getting water to
communities that straddle the Great Lakes basin delayed the compact there.

A new, bipartisan deal apparently headed to approval in the Wisconsin legislature pleases the
Council of Great Lakes Governors, and its executive director Dave Naftzger.

“This could really be the tipping point that pushes the region over the edge and enables the deal
to finally get done so this region can take the finalized compact to Washington for final approval.’’

Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania are the other states still working on ratifying the Great Lakes
Water Diversion Compact.

For The Environment Report, I’m Chuck Quirmbach.

Related Links

Zebra Mussels 20 Years Later

  • (Photo courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service)

The invasive zebra mussel has disrupted food chains and
caused billions of dollars in damage across the country. This
year marks the twentieth anniversary of the discovery of zebra
mussels. Mark Brush reports:

Transcript

The invasive zebra mussel has disrupted food chains and
caused billions of dollars in damage across the country. This
year marks the twentieth anniversary of the discovery of zebra
mussels. Mark Brush reports:

The invasive mussels first arrived here in the ballast water of foreign ships. The mussels
are really good at filtering food out of the water column – such as algae and zooplankton –
food that would eventually go to fish.

David Jude is a research scientist at the University of Michigan. He says, 20 years later,
researchers are still fighting a perception that zebra mussels are good for the
environment. That’s because the mussels do make the water clearer.

“Well if you get clear water that means that some of the algae and some of the
zooplankton that are in that water, that are part of the food chain, that are fueling our fish are going to be destroyed, degraded and
damaged.”

The Great Lakes have been hit hard by the invasive zebra mussels – and by their close
cousins – known as quagga mussels. Jude says in many places popular sport fish such as
salmon and yellow perch are having a tough time finding enough food to survive.

For The Environment Report, I’m Mark Brush.

Related Links

Nature and Ice Wine

  • Vidal blanc grapes used in ice wine. The vines are netted to protect the grapes from high winter winds and animals. (Photo courtesy of Mario Mazza)

When you think about wine you might think about sunny Italy or warm
Napa Valley in California. But one wine is the product of cold
weather. Ann Murray has the story:

Transcript

When you think about wine you might think about sunny Italy or warm
Napa Valley in California. But one wine is the product of cold
weather. Ann Murray has the story:


Today, the weather and the sales are brisk at the Mazza Winery and
Vineyards.


Sales Person: “Did you want these in a bag?”


Mary Ventura: “Yes, this is all going to the same spot.”


Mary Ventura is buying small bottles of wine that she describes as
“liquid candy.” Ventura and the sales clerk chime in when I ask her
what she’s talking about:


“This is ice wine. It’s not something you can find on all the shelves.
And so we came across this little winery and it’s great.”


Mazza’s is one of the few wineries in the United States that sells and
produces ice wine. More and more people are discovering this rare,
super sweet dessert wine:


“We’re going to head out right behind the winery, actually.”


Mario Mazza is a third generation grower. He says their vineyard’s
location along the Lake Erie shoreline in Pennsylvania makes ice
wine production possible. For vineyards in this region, the Great Lake
changes the local climate:


“In the spring it keeps the shore a little bit cooler, keeps the grapes
from budding too early, which is a good thing… prevents them from
getting hit from the later spring frost. In the fall, we have the reverse
happen. In September and even in October we have a little bit more
warmth along the lake shore here.”


But the real ticket to producing ice wine is a final burst of cold winter
weather. In December or January, winds off Lake Erie can bring the
temperature to well below freezing. As snowflakes whip around the
vineyards, Mazza stands next to rows of grapes still on the vine. The
rows are netted by hand to protect the vines from high winter winds
and hungry animals:


“These vineyards we’re looking at here are vidal blanc grapes.
They’re a great variety because they have a relatively thick skin and
can hold up to the colder climate, to the colder weather and leaving
them on the vine for an extra two months.”


Natural ice wines require a hard freeze to occur sometime after the
grapes are ripe. If a freeze doesn’t come fast enough, the grapes
might rot and the crop will be lost. If the freeze is too severe, no juice
can be extracted.


(Sound of bottling inside winery)


Back inside the winery, Mazza helps out with bottling. During a break,
he says that catching the right sustained freeze means that workers
must be ready to roll out of bed early to pick the grapes used in ice
wine:


“When we go out there and pick ’em about 5:00 in the morning with
headlights down the rows, you’re actually picking these grapes at
about 18 degrees Fahrenheit so they’re actually frozen, just like a marble.
You get very, very sweet juice when you press that out.”


Ice wines are very sweet because the grapes dehydrate the last two
months on the vine. That concentrates the sugar and the flavor:


“The sugars are twice that we get in a normal harvest date in October. And
the flavors are just so much more intense and concentrated.”


Murray: “So you don’t end up with a lot of juice then?”


Mazza: “Hence the rarity, the sale in a smaller bottle and the price
tags on ice wines. A lot of people look at them and say wow, those are
awfully expensive. When they learn about the extensive effort put into
making these wines, they then understand that it’s well worth it.”


At $40 dollars a half-bottle, ice wine generally is worth the extra work
for growers. It might take months to completely ferment ice wine.
Regular wines take days or weeks. Each year, the Mazzas produce
only about 250 gallons of ice wine — a tiny amount compared to other
wines.


Worker: “There should be about a case down there.”


Upstairs, customers continue to stream in and out of the Mazza wine
shop, some of them eyeing the small bottles of liquid gold that nature
and patience help make possible.


For the Environment Report, this is Ann Murray.

Related Links

Satellites Could Help Great Lakes

  • Scientists say there's no money to support using satellite images to help spot problems in the Great Lakes. (Photo by Lester Graham)

Scientists say satellite images could do more to help spot major problems in the Great Lakes, if
there were more federal money for those kinds of programs. Chuck Quirmbach reports:

Transcript

Scientists say satellite images could do more to help spot major problems in the Great Lakes, if
there were more federal money for those kinds of programs. Chuck Quirmbach reports:


Researchers have occasionally used satellite data from the Great Lakes, including to map ice on
the lakes. But the International Association for Great Lakes Research says federal funds for
satellite programs to monitor water quality and other conditions in the lakes have dropped
substantially since the 1990s.


Research group Executive Director Robert Sweeney says the lack of infrared and photo data
means it’s hard to tell if pollution clean-up programs are working:


“We don’t know if the removal of certain pollutants really make sense in terms of how the water is
responding.”


Sweeney says there are not enough research boats or coastal programs to get the answers. The
Bush Administration has been trying to coordinate Great Lakes environmental efforts through a
collaboration plan, but scientists complain there’s no new money.


For the Environment Report, I’m Chuck Quirmbach.

Related Links

Great Lakes Record Lows

  • Lower water levels on the Great Lakes make some channels such as the Muskegon River too shallow for big freighters to enter fully loaded. (Photo by Lester Graham)

The Great Lakes are hitting new record low water levels. The water is so low that
big 1000-foot cargo ships are running aground. There’s debate about
whether this is just part of the historic ups and downs of the Great Lakes, or if it’s the
effects of global warming. Lester Graham reports from Lake Michigan’s Muskegon
River, a trouble spot for some of the big ships:

Transcript

The Great Lakes are hitting new record low water levels. The water is so low that
big 1000-foot cargo ships are running aground. There’s debate about
whether this is just part of the historic ups and downs of the Great Lakes, or if it’s the
effects of global warming. Lester Graham reports from Lake Michigan’s Muskegon
River, a trouble spot for some of the big ships:


Here at the end of the pier next to the lighthouse, it’s cold, it’s icy and it’s windy. And
it’s hard to imagine a ship navigating its way into this channel, but ships do on a
regular basis to bring coal to a power plant. This year, however, some of the ships
have ended up aground here simply because of lower lake levels and more sediment
in the channel:


“There’s been three this summer here in Muskegon. They go hard up on the sand.”


Dennis Donahue is the marine superintendent for the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration’s Lake Michigan field station at Muskegon, Michigan. He
says this year’s groundings of cargo ships just hasn’t happened that often in the
past:


“Well, we haven’t had a grounding here, certainly in the last 15 years due to water
levels.”


Lester Graham: “So what’s happening here? What’s going on?”


Donahue: “Well, there’s a couple of things, we’ve got the water levels dropping and
then we’ve got some weather patterns that are carrying sediment to the mouth of the
Muskegon River. So, those two compound and create shoal areas.”


So lower water and a rising bottom mean channels are more shallow. That means
ships have to carry less cargo, and that costs the shippers reportedly a million
dollars per ship per year.


Scientists have been monitoring the dropping lake levels for close to a decade now.
At NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab, Deputy Director Cynthia
Sellinger says she’s been seeing a trend in the weather that’s causing the problem:


“We’re having a lot less precipitation and a lot more evaporation. And that’s
impacting the water levels on the lake.”


Less snow pack and rain mean less water filling the lakes, and with warmer winters
Sellinger says there’s less ice cover to protect the lakes from massive evaporation.
Historically, about 50% of the lakes’ surfaces have been covered by ice. These
days, it’s more like ten to 20%. Cold air hits the warmer water and
carries it away. For Lake Superior alone, a one-inch drop is more than 500 billion
gallons. During the past decade, Superior has lost nearly 13 trillion gallons.


“The upper lakes, Superior, Michigan and Huron, are very close to their record low.
So, it’s approaching an extreme. Superior reached its record low in 1926 and just
this year it broke the record low for September. So, 2007 now is a new record low
for Lake Superior. Lakes Michigan and Huron are approaching their record low.”


Sellinger and her colleagues are not ready to say global warming is causing the
lower lake levels. It might just be a part of a long cycle of ups and downs of the lakes.
But the lower water levels do fit some of the computer model predictions about
global warming.


Lower lake levels causing problems for big cargo ships and marinas catering to
recreational boaters are problems enough. But, some environmentalists say if lower
water levels are caused by global warming, the pressures on the water in the Great
Lakes likely are going to get a lot worse. Andy Buchsbaum heads up the National
Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes office:


“The hidden threat of global warming is that not only does it affect Great Lakes water
levels simply because of increased evaporation or increased temperatures changes
precipitation, but the threat it makes to Great Lakes water levels is even greater.
Because global warming, global climate change, is having massive effects already
and is likely to have even greater effects on water supplies in the Southwest, the
Southeast and all over the country. And as those pressures increase, the pressure
to divert Great Lakes water will increase exponentially.”


We don’t know whether new diversions to dry areas of the country could cause as
much of a problem as less precipitation and more evaporation of the Great Lakes
already do. But, it would certainly aggravate the problem. The effects of water
levels dropping further mean more economic hardship for shipping and tourism. And
environmentalists say ecological damage to coastal habitat that fish and other
wildlife need to survive could be on a scale that’s not been seen on the Great Lakes
in recorded history.


For The Environment Report, I’m Lester Graham.

Related Links

Green Goo Finds New Home

  • Sandy Binh works for the Waterkeeper Alliance. She's kept a close eye on water quality problems in western Lake Erie. She and her neighbors are worried about the emergence of a new algae in the Lake - Lyngbya wollei. (Photo by Mark Brush)

Life along the water can be pretty nice – sunsets, strolls along the
beach, and boating. It’s no wonder more Americans are moving closer to
big lakes. But it’s not all fun at the beach these days. Mark Brush
brings us the story of one lake shore community that seems to be stuck
with a green gooey invader:

Transcript

Life along the water can be pretty nice – sunsets, strolls along the
beach, and boating. It’s no wonder more Americans are moving closer to
big lakes. But it’s not all fun at the beach these days. Mark Brush
brings us the story of one lake shore community that seems to be stuck
with a green gooey invader:


For many people living along the western edge of Lake Erie, seeing
algae is nothing new. Lake Erie is the shallowest and warmest of the
five Great Lakes. Algae like to grow here. But the cold winter months
usually kill off what grows over the summer.


(Sound of lake)


That’s not the case for a new type of algae that has spread through
this area in the last year. Jerry Brown has lived and paddled his
boats along these shores for years. We’re standing next to a beach
that is piled with mounds of dried green and brown algae three feet
high:


“It’s like a carpeting that grows on top of itself and becomes matted –
and it appears to dry but it doesn’t deteriorate. What used to be my
wonderful seafront, and waves lapping up against my seawall, is now
what I call my lower forty because it’s a field.”


The algae are known as Lyngbya wollei. Residents have been
warned not to touch it because it might cause skin rashes.
Lyngbya algae are common in Florida and some other southern
states. It probably hitched a ride up here from a pleasure boat.


(Sound of tractor)


Just down the road Brown’s neighbor is John Pastorek. He’s using his
tractor to lift a water pump out of the Lake. He uses the pump to water
the lawns around his house. Recently, his pump stopped working. It’s completely
covered by the dark green goop:


“And so the pump can’t suck through that. So now I’ve gotta clean
that off of here so that the filter can once again work. But it’s a short
term solution because it’s going to fill back up again.”


Pastorek says he’d love to find a way to get rid of the algae. What
he’s not aware of is that he might be contributing to the problem.
His house is surrounded by green lawns:


“You know my wife and daughter just returned from Ireland and yesterday
they said, ‘Boy, this looks just like Ireland. It’s so green.'”


It’s that green because it gets treated with fertilizers by a lawn care
company. The invasive algae feed on fertilizers that are washed off
the land by rain. I’m here with Sandy Binh of the environmental group
the Waterkeeper Alliance. She’s also Pastorek’s neighbor.
And she tries to convince him to tell his lawn company to stop using
phosphorus as a fertilizer:


“It will be just as green. It will not change it a bit. In fact
Lowe’s now on their Scott’s products that they sell – there’s no
phosphorus. I checked this year. A lot of companies are adopting it because they know it’s not needed. It can actually have less cost because they don’t have to put that in it. It doesn’t have any effect on your
lawn – there’s no reason to have it.”


Binh says to stop the invasive algae – one of the most important things
people can do – is to stop giving it nutrients such as phosphorus.
These nutrients come from a lot of places. They leak from septic
systems. They come from sewage treatment plants. And they wash off
farm fields and lawns:


“We really need to get it out of dishwasher detergent, to get it out
of lawn fertilizers, to work with the agricultural community to reduce
it. We need to find out what’s causing it quickly because we don’t
want to become the old poster child where Lake Erie is really having major
problems.”


Researchers say phosphorus isn’t the only problem. They say people
need to cut back on on another of the algae’s favorite food – nitrogen.
Hans Paerl is with the Institute of Marine Sciences in North Carolina.
He says once these mats of algae get started – it can be tough to stop
them, because they can start to make their own nutrients:


“In many ways – once that bloom gets going it becomes a sort of self-
fulfilling prophecy. The bottom line is we need to think about
nitrogen as well as phosphorus as far as ultimately controlling and managing these blooms.”


(Sound of lake)


Back at the lakefront, boater Jerry Brown says he hopes they can solve
the problem soon:


“You now, I’m seventy years old. I’ve been here 40 years. I love
living on the lake and I no longer have any use for the lake. I’m very fearful that this won’t be corrected and
that I’ll end my days not being to use the lake that I love so much.”


To stop the spread of these kinds of algae it will take cooperation
from farmers, cities… pretty much everyone. Anything we put on the
land or in our pipes flows into the water. But at the moment, most
people don’t seem to know that they’re a part of the problem and
nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen continue to pollute the
water.


For the Environment Report, I’m Mark Brush.

Related Links