February 24, 2024
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Lake Erie HAB
In search of new ways to sink phosphates on land

Water news for Thursday, February 8, 2024 - updated 1255 pm EST

Lake Erie HAB Could the answer to keeping excess phos out of Lake Erie be to fight fire with fire?
A clear image from NCCOS captured Feb 6 shows lingering HABs along shore at Camp Perry, in the harbor on the east side of Catawba Island and in two spots on the north shore of Kelleys Island. The HAB does not disappear during the cold water season, it just hangs around waiting for spring. What does 2024 season have in store for Lake Erie, the drinking water source for 11 million people in the USA and Canada? WTOH.us investigates to find out what the H2Ohio initiative has planned to slow down the escape of dissolved reactive phosphate, the nutrient that spikes the Lake Erie HAB.

Of the total nutrient load going into Lake Erie from the land bordering all sides, Canada, Michigan, Ohio, New York, Ohio is determined to be contributing two-thirds of the feedstock for the HAB. Ohio EPA has been tasked with reducing nutrient load on Lake Erie by 442 metric tonnes per year. In order to accomplish this task, the Ohio EPA has used a Mass Balance model, has identified the sources of the problem nutrient. With phosphate sensors placed in the areas of known escape, the State has accumulated reams of data and undertaken a most detailed analysis of the sources of the phosphate leaking off the landscape.

According to the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) Plan of 2022, only 6% of the problem can be attributed to specific point sources. Municipal wastewater treatment plants and industrial sources are already on the National Pollutant Discharge and Elimination System (NPDES) permitting system, monitored and enforced by OEPA in Ohio. These point-source polluters are actively engaged in reducing or eliminating their contribution to the Lake Erie HAB. Additional work can be done to replace leaking estimated at one third of Household Sewage Treatment Systems in use by homes not connected to municipal treatment works. Combined stormwater and sewage overflows have been considered and calculated in the waste load equation.

The balance of phosphate contamination, 94% of the load, is escaping off the soil, a non-point source that is not easy to pinpoint, the rate of loss having more to do with the volume of spring rain than anything mere mortals can control. Ohio EPA analysis supporting the 2022 TMDL shows that the application of phosphate fertlizers to row crops has not increased over many years in the Maumee River watershed, the surface area of Ohio contributing the majority of reactive phos to Lake Erie. As application of commercial phosphate fertilizers has gone down over the years, the application of manure has increased, the total has remained fairly constant. It is determined that some of the phosphate load must be legacy phos, that naturally occuring form of the nutrent which is mobilized out of the landscape with heavy rain.

Clearly the task of limiting this HAB fuel is daunting. Ohio EPA has submitted a new TMDL applying to the Maumee River watershed surface area, this new plan was required under a Consent Decree following legal action by Lucas County to spur more action on the Lake Erie HAB. Given the data collected over decades and previous TMDL plans, it does not appear that a solution can be found from within the current process and action plans.

Ohio EPA presenting the TMDL in 2022 declared that new technologies may be an opportunity to "sink" phosphate. Looking for new opportunities to remove phosphate from the land, to slow the flow of water through the Maumee River watershed surface area. OEPA is on the record stating "we may not know every best management practise" for holding or reducing phosphate.

Join the discussion here as we consider some new ideas on the sinking of phos, the slowing of water flow, the mitigation of wastewater and biosolids, the potential for transforming the mountains of manure that cannot be spread on frozen ground into something beneficial for the farmers and for Lake Erie. More to follow.

Streamflow Situation from USGS Waterwatch based on real-time flow monitors across Ohio
No untoward weather in the forecast for Ohio Thursday, no active flooding in the state, streamflows appear largely normal on both sides of the drainage divide. Sandusky River is recorded above 90th percentile near Upper Sandusky, and two gages today record much below normal flows, Auglaize River in the Lake Erie drainage area and Loramie Creek is flowing much below normal in the Mississippi River basin. A half dozen monitors across all watersheds are sending below normal values.

As of this update there are no extreme high or extreme low flows registering anywhere in the state network today.

Drinking Water Matters Lake Erie HAB 2024 feature
Lake Erie is the source of raw water for public drinking water facilities supplying 11 million customers in the USA and Canada. The City of Toledo Water, Oregon, Ottawa County Regional Water, Sandusky are some of the larger facilities drawing off the HAB impacted west Lake Erie basin. As we approach the ten year anniversary of the Toledo water crisis of 2014, we will take a deep dive into the issue of HABs and cyanotoxins, risk and impact on drinking water and recreational water. Over the coming weeks leading up to spring thaw and spring rains, we will look into the background on this subject, what happened in 2014 and what is so particularly dangerous about HAB toxins in the drinking water supply. We will look at the Lucas County v EPA, OEPA Consent Decree issued by the court mandating action for the protection of Lake Erie, and what that means for agricultural producers in the Maumee River watershed. We will open up the new Total Maximum Daily Limit (TMDL) Plan established by Ohio EPA under the Consent Decree, approved by the federal Environmental Protection Agency last fall. We will be diving into the TMDL plan, with input from OEPA as to how this plan will be implemented, some notable exclusions, point sources and non-point sources, what can be enforced and what cannot be enforced under this plan.

We will delve into H2Ohio, the trifecta of Ohio state departments organized to manage and support Lake Erie water quality. Ohio Department of Agriculture, OEPA and Ohio Department of Natural Resources working with County Soil and Water Conservation offices in the northwest supporting voluntary adoption of accepted Best Management Practises for agriculture. Stay tuned for research papers, interviews and dialogue on the efforts to subdue the Lake Erie HAB. More to follow.

Drought map from USGS Waterwatch 7-day average streamflow compared with historic flow for today's date
Noble and Monroe Counties have popped up on the drought map breaking a clean record for the last few weeks. The Little Muskingum River watershed area is rated below normal Thursday.

The height-of-land divide in Ohio runs from Mercer County in the west angling northeast up to Ashtabula County on the east state border. Streamflows north of the divide feed Lake Erie, flows south of the divide run to the Ohio River, part of the Mississippi River basin that drains the majority of interior North America to the Gulf of Mexico.

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