Giant Algae Blooms, Freshwater Estuaries, Our Ailing Rivers, and the Battle Over Fish Consumption

Lots of Nooze about water today! john flesherFirst, from John Flesher with the AP, grim predictions about algae in the Great Lakes:

Report predicts ever-bigger Lake Erie algae blooms

This Oct. 5, 2011 satellite photo from a NASA website shows algae blooms swirling on Lake Erie. A study released Monday, April 1, 2013 said the warming climate and modern farming practices are creating ideal conditions for gigantic algae formations on Lake Erie. The shallowest and southernmost of the Great Lakes, Erie contains just 2 percent of their combined waters but about half their fish. (AP Photo/NASA)

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — It was the largest algae bloom in Lake Erie's recorded history — a scummy, toxic blob that oozed across nearly one-fifth of the lake's surface during the summer and fall of 2011. It sucked oxygen from the water, clogged boat motors and washed ashore in rotting masses that turned beachgoers' stomachs.

It was also likely an omen of things to come, experts said in a study released Monday. The warming climate and modern farming practices are creating ideal conditions for gigantic algae formations on Lake Erie, which could be potentially disastrous to the surrounding area's multi-billion-dollar tourist economy. The shallowest and southernmost of the Great Lakes, Erie contains just 2 percent of their combined waters but about half their fish.... Read more.

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adam hintTwo stories from IJNR's very own Director of Programs, Adam Hinterthuer, writing for the University of Wisconsin's Center for Limnology blog:

Freshwater Estuaries: Exploring an Unusual Ecosystem

Hinterthuer_estuary

The Saint Louis River Estuary is a rare type of freshwater ecosystem that receives significant amounts of water from both the incoming rivers and Lake Superior. While estuaries are common along coastlines where rivers empty into the big blue sea, it’s less common to find a river running into a large-enough body of freshwater like Lake Superior. By definition alone, the St. Louis River Estuary is unique, but it is further noteworthy for all that it provides. The estuary is an important migratory bird fly-way and nesting site. It is an important nursery for all sorts of Lake Superior fish, from walleye to channel catfish to lake sturgeon. The estuary was once filled with beds of wild rice, a staple food for the native Ojibwe people. And today it flows between Duluth, Minnesota and Superior, Wisconsin, where it’s home to the largest active harbor in the Great Lakes... Read more. 

The Impact of Ag: More than Half of U.S. Rivers in 'Poor' Condition

Last Tuesday, the United States’ Environmental Protection Agency released the results of a comprehensive study that measured the vital signs of 1.2 million miles of American rivers and streams. The prognosis wasn’t great. Measuring things like water clarity, nutrient pollution, bacteria levels and mercury contamination, the EPA found that 55% of the river miles studied were in poor condition to support aquatic life like insects, crayfish and fish.

While the magnitude of the problem is sobering, the chief culprit wasn’t shocking for researchers here at the Center for Limnology.

“Most of the pollution is soil, manure and fertilizer running off of farm fields,” says CFL director, Steve Carpenter... Read more. 

Even today, the Kinnickinnic River in Milwaukee is almost entirely channelized (encased in concrete). The city of Milwaukee is working to restore the river bank and design a more natural flow to reduce stormwater flood events and pollution. Photo: Adam Hinterthuer

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Robert McClureRobert McClure with InvestigateWest brings us another great story about the conflicting interests of industry and human health in the Northwest:

Business interests trump health concerns in fish consumption fight

The Washington State Department of Ecology has known since the 1990s that its water-pollution limits have meant some Washingtonians regularly consume dangerous amounts of toxic chemicals in fish from local waterways.

At least twice, Ecology has been told by its overseers at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to fix the problem and better protect people’s health. Ecology was close to finally doing that last year — until Boeing and other business interests launched an intense lobbying campaign aimed not just at Ecology but also at the Washington Legislature and then-Gov. Christine Gregoire. That is the picture that emerges from recent interviews as well as government documents obtained by InvestigateWest under the Washington Public Records Law.

The problem lies in Ecology’s estimate of how much fish people eat. The lower the amount, the more water pollution Ecology can legally allow. So by assuming that people eat the equivalent of just one fish meal per month, Ecology is able to set less stringent pollution limits... Read more. 

The current estimate of how much fish people eat in Washington State, a key criteria for setting water quality standards, is less than one-tenth the figure used by Oregon. Credit: Jason Alcorn