Our Farming Practises are Destroying the Great Lakes

Photo by Lucas Ludwig on Unsplash

The Prevalence of Phosphorus:

The year 2019 marked the 350th anniversary of the discovery of phosphorus (P) by the alchemist Hennig Brandt. Phosphorus is the foundation for all life on earth. It is essential to global food production and supporting population growth around the world.

Toxic Algae Blooms In the Great Lakes Region

Algae are natural components of marine and freshwater ecosystems and form the foundation of most aquatic food chains. However, harmful algae blooms (HABs) contain organisms that can severely lower oxygen levels in natural waters. Harmful algae blooms in freshwater lakes and rivers, or at estuaries, are caused by cyanobacteria, also known as “Bluegreen algae”. Some cyanobacteria can produce potent toxins known as cyanotoxins. Outbreaks of cyanobacteria that release toxins are commonly called “toxic algae” blooms.

What’s the Big Deal?

Harmful algae blooms can affect human health and welfare. Excessive algae growth can degrade the quality of drinking water supplies. In recent years, toxic algae blooms involving a cyanotoxin called microcystin, have led to several temporary “do-not-drink” warnings around the Western Lake Erie Basin. Additionally, the toxins have serious environmental, economic, and social consequences for various industries including recreational tourism, boating, fishing, and hunting.

So is there a cost to all of this? In short, yes.

Canadian citizens face a number of economic costs, both market and non-market, as a result of the blooms. Uncontrolled, algal blooms on Lake Erie could cost Canadians $5.3 billion over the next 30 years. However, if immediate action is taken to control the algae blooms, costs could be reduced by $2.8 billion.

Why is this happening?

Dissolved reactive phosphorus (DRP) from agricultural non-point sources is the primary driver of harmful algae outbreaks. Farmlands are categorized as non-point sources because there are no single entry points into the waterways.

Moving Forward…

The impairment of surface water bodies by phosphorous remains a challenging, persistent, and widespread problem that threatens not only water quality but also water security.

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Alison Reiszadeh

Alison Reiszadeh

Ottawa Based Writer- I write articles about underrated and overlooked issues regarding climate change, the environment, and biodiversity loss