The Ontario and federal governments have recently announced the enactment of a joint action plan for reducing algal blooms in Lake Erie. The Lake Erie Action Plan identifies numerous actions aimed at reducing the amount of phosphorus entering into Lake Erie by 40 per cent below 2008 levels.
The Action Plan operationalizes commitments that Canada and Ontario have made under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, 2012 and the Canada–Ontario Agreement on Great Lakes Water Quality and Ecosystem Health, 2014 to reduce phosphorus entering Lake Erie. Canada and the United States have also adopted binational phosphorus reduction targets. Ontario’s Great Lakes Protection Act requires the province to establish at least one target aimed at reducing algal blooms.
The announced Action Plan also comes on the heels of an International Joint Commission Progress Report that highlighted the persistent water quality issues plaguing western and central Lake Erie and that made a number of recommendations for reducing algal blooms.
Phosphorous has long been a problem in Lake Erie. Phosphorous enters the lake in a number of ways including especially via run-off from agricultural operations and sewage treatment plants. Excessive phosphorous loads can lead to harmful algal blooms, which can lead to a number of deleterious environmental and human health impacts. Algal blooms have been a particularly pernicious and long-standing problem in Lake Erie, whose biological productivity and proximity to agricultural operations and population centres in both Canada and the United States makes it particularly vulnerable.
Although decades of multi-jurisdictional efforts helped reduce the amount of run-off entering Lake Erie in the 1970s and 1980s, climate change, along with changes to the local ecosystem and land use, have created a recent resurgence in algal blooms.