A clean Lake Erie this week was proof, to some, of why it’s been foul in recent years.
Several hundred advocates from around the Great Lakes, almost all American, rendezvoused in Sandusky, Ohio for the annual Great Lakes restoration conference. For 11 years, the conference has gathered these advocates to network but primarily to organize around funding from the federal government to restore the Great Lakes.
What they found was a benign and beautiful Lake Erie, not the algae-ridden cesspool unfit for boating or swimming familiar from the last 15 years. The summer of 2016 grew one of the smallest toxic blooms of the 21st Century. But why?
It appears that a dry spring held back the usual seasonal runoff from agricultural lands. The absence of that pulse of phosphorus denied algae the food it needed to thrive. If non-farm sources were primarily responsible for western Lake Erie’s problems — for example, sewage plants that generally discharge at comparable levels year-round — a dry spring would have provided less benefit. That’s the working hypothesis anyway, with obvious policy implications.
This year, at summer’s end, Sandusky on the beach sure was beautiful.