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Needed: Early-term adjustments for Lake Erie phosphorus target loads to address western basin cyanobacterial blooms

Baker, David B., Johnson, Laura T., Confesor, Remegio B., Crumrine, John P., Guo, Tian, Manning, Nathan F.
Journal of Great Lakes research 2019 v.45 no.2 pp. 203-211
basins, bioavailability, estuaries, pollution load, reactive phosphorus, spring, total phosphorus, Canada, Lake Erie, United States
For Lake Erie, it is already time to revise the phosphorus target loads set to address the problem of cyanobacterial blooms in the Western Basin. Current targets were proposed by the Annex 4 task group in 2015, adopted by U.S. and Canadian governments in 2016, and set as objectives of domestic action plans in 2017. These targets, applicable to all spring discharges below the 90th percentile, set a maximum load for both total phosphorus (TP) and dissolved reactive phosphorus (DRP) equivalent to 60% of their 2008 spring loads. This essentially mandates 40% reductions in both particulate phosphorus (PP) and DRP loading relative to 2008 loads. These targets do not explicitly incorporate the difference in bioavailability between DRP (~100% bioavailable) and PP (~25% bioavailable). From 2008 to 2017, DRP comprised 24% of the spring TP load and over half (~56%) of the total bioavailable phosphorus (TBAP) load, while PP comprised 76% of the TP load but only ~44% of the TBAP load. Subsequent deposition of PP in the estuarine and nearshore zones further reduces its significance in bloom development. By ignoring differences in bioavailability, the current targets provide no guidance for choosing among practices based on their relative effectiveness in reducing DRP or PP and their combined reductions in TBAP loading. Current targets place more emphasis on PP than needed to efficiently reach targeted cyanobacterial bloom reductions. To clarify appropriate management approaches and lead to greater success in reducing cyanobacterial blooms, target loads should be based on TBAP.