Lake Erie Algae Can be Reduced by Going Phosphorus Free

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Picture of a dead fish amongst algae overgrowth.
Photo Source: University of Michigan

For many, the Great Lakes are the pride and joy of our region. The lakes are key to our region’s access to freshwater and supports local industries such as tourism and fishing. Lake Erie has been in the news again this year because of the overgrowth of algae that threatens the lake’s ecosystem.

Algae is a plant or plant-like chlorophyll containing organism that thrives on phosphorus. A fight against the overabundance of phosphorus in the Great Lakes region took place in the 1970s and resulted in 20 years free from algae blooms. In the 1990s however, algae overgrowth began to occur again, slowly weakening the aquatic habitat that had been thriving for the past two decades.

The return of Lake Erie algae blooms signifies that, once again, too much phosphorus has been entering our water system. Phosphorus comes from agricultural runoff, sewage treatment plants, lawn fertilizers, and septic systems. With so much phosphorus entering our water, algae begins to grow at alarming rates but the real problem is not when there is too much algae living, it is when there is too much algae dying.

When algae (or any living thing) dies and begins to decompose, it uses oxygen in the process. When decomposition takes place in water, oxygen is removed and leaves fish without enough oxygen to survive.

By being conscious of the chemicals that we put on our lawns, use in our gardens and on our farms, and being sure that our septic systems are running properly can help to reduce the phosphorus going into our water system. A reduction in phosphorus usage in the past has proven to be effective in controlling algae blooms and promoting a healthier habitat in our lakes.

When choosing a lawn fertilizer, choose one that does not contain phosphorus. How can you tell? On the bag there are three numbers which indicate the amount of Nitrogen, Phosphate, and Potash – in that order. Something like 22-0-15. Make sure that the middle number says “0” and you will be making a good purchase and reducing Lake Erie algae!

By Erica Larson