There is no question that farm runoff, and the nitrogen and phosphorus that go with it into rivers and streams, is a primary contributor to the toxic algae that is destroying precious surface water resources.
The fixes to this problem are known, but implementation is slow and often viewed as expensive. The latter position a highly debatable one.
Our opinion is that, once the clean-up strategies are put into place, runoff will be reduced at an even swifter pace — all while profits for farmers increase. Truly a win-win scenario for all involved.
I was speaking with a farmer in WI recently — a man well-known for his innovative practices as an organic operator for over 30 years. We discussed land management and farm runoff, and safeguards against having that animal waste empty into the rivers and streams which eventually lead to the algae blooms seen in so many areas around the USA.
His quick comment?
“Just feed the animals the grass you grow, along the waterways, to keep the runoff from reaching the water.”
Pretty simple, but not always easy to implement when a farm is struggling to maximize its revenue. Why grow grass, for example, when corn is so much more lucrative?
Practically speaking, without sufficient long-term financial incentive to manage land to avoid waste runoff, best practices will almost certainly not be followed universally.
The encouraging word? Best practices are known — and they work!
Not the largest of the Great Lakes, but still plenty big, why does this poor body of water get hit so hard every summer — almost covered with algae — when largely unregulated agricultural runoff dumps tons of waste into the rivers that empty into this lake?
Lake Superior, by contrast, is the greatest of the Great Lakes, and almost so clean that if one were to go far enough off shore, she/he MIGHT be able to drop in a cup and drink up.
Try that in Lake Erie at the height of the algae bloom and it is very possible she/he will die.
So — what gives?
Well, for starters Lake Erie has far more people, industry, and — perhaps most importantly — agriculture around it. But that’s not all.
Lake Erie is shallow. On average only about 60 feet deep. Lake Superior? 10 times deeper. At least.
In fact, to fully empty Lake Superior and replace it with totally new freshwater takes 191 years. Lake Erie? Two and one-half years.
It is no wonder then, that poor Lake Erie chokes on algae every summer.
But here’s the encouraging news. With effective agricultural land management, a lot can be accomplished quickly, to stop the farm runoff that is pouring into the lake.
Get to the worst spots first, make a major impact on reducing the waste, and poor Lake Erie isn’t so poor anymore. In fact, it cleans up really fast.
And everyone who lives around it loves the abundant benefits a healthy Lake Erie provides.
Armed with indisputable research, and best practice land management approaches that are clear-cut and effective, there is every chance that these devastating, oxygen-sapping, aquatic life killing blooms can rapidly become a thing of the past.