Canada and US announce 40% phosphorus reduction target for Lake Erie

July 28, 2015, the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 captured this image of an algal bloom in western Lake Erie. Credit: NASA's Earth Observatory.

Canada’s Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy today Monday that Canada and the U.S. have adopted targets to reduce phosphorus entering affected areas of Lake Erie by 40%.

The targets announced will minimize the extent of low oxygen “dead zones” in the central basin of Lake Erie; maintain algae growth at a level consistent with healthy aquatic ecosystems; and maintain algae biomass at levels that do not produce toxins that pose a threat to human or ecosystem health, said the EPA.

Algae occur naturally in freshwater systems. They are essential to the aquatic food web and healthy ecosystems. However, too much algae, linked to high amounts of phosphorus, can lead to conditions that can harm human health and the environment. Since the 1990s, Lake Erie has seen an increase in algal growth that has compromised water quality and threatens the Lake Erie region’s recreation-intensive economy. The algal bloom in 2015 was recorded as the largest bloom this century, covering over 775 square kilometres in dense scum.

Through the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, Canada and the United States committed in 2012 to combat the growing threat of toxic and nuisance algae development in Lake Erie, and agreed to develop updated binational phosphorus reduction targets for Lake Erie by February 2016. The 40% reduction targets are based on 2008 loading levels. Canada and the United States have committed to develop domestic action plans, by no later than February 2018, to help meet the new targets.


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“Canada recognizes the urgency and magnitude of the threat to Lake Erie water quality and ecosystem health posed by toxic and nuisance algal blooms,” said Minister McKenna.

“By establishing these targets, we strengthen our resolve to work with our American neighbours, and Canadian and U.S. stakeholders who share these waters, to protect the tremendous natural resource that is Lake Erie.”

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