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What is causing the harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie?

Douglas R. Smith, Kevin W. King, Mark R. Williams
Journal of soil and water conservation 2015 v.70 no.2 pp. 27A-29A
Dreissena polymorpha, agricultural watersheds, algal blooms, animal manures, bioavailability, climate change, commodity prices, cropping systems, crops, ethanol production, farm management, farm size, fertilizer rates, glyphosate, herbicide resistance, lakes, losses from soil, nitrogen, no-tillage, nonpoint source pollution, nutrient use efficiency, on-farm research, phosphorus, phosphorus fertilizers, pollution load, soil analysis, soil biology, soil fertility, soil nutrients, soil pH, tile drainage, transgenic plants, water pollution, Lake Erie
Harmful and nuisance algal blooms have been increasing in size and extent since about 2000. In recent years, the release of the algal toxin microcystin has become a growing concern and has resulted in the inability to use water from Lake Erie as a drinking water source to the 400,000 residents of Toledo, Ohio in August, 2014. Farmers in the Western Lake Erie Basin have received the brunt of the blame for the phosphorus loading to the lake that is the root cause of the algal blooms. In this paper, we identify 25 possible causes for increased soluble P loading to Lake Erie. Briefly, these include: climate change, commodity prices, cropping systems, crop nutrient efficiency, ethanol production, fertilizer placement, fertilizer rates, fertility recommendations, fertilizer sources, Round-Up Ready crops, increased soil pH, larger farm size, decrease sediment loading to water, manure, misconceptions by researchers about P, nitrogen, no-till, rental agreements, products sold to increase fertilizer and soil P bioavailability, alterations to soil biology, soil testing and analysis, phosphorus stratification in soils, tile drainage and zebra mussels. Without an appreciation for what factors may be influencing increased soluble phosphorus loading, researchers may not be focused enough to identify potential solutions and decision makers will not be able to manage land in a fashion to curb phosphorus losses to the lake. This paper sets a framework from which future research and farm management may be implemented to target the phosphorus problem in Lake Erie.