Canada, U.S. Commit to 40 Percent Phosphorus Reduction Targets for Lake Erie

Canada’s Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna and United States Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy have announced a joint commitment to reduce the amount of phosphorus entering Lake Erie.

The 40 percent targets announced on Monday in Washington are meant to “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.” As part of the 2012 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, both countries agreed to establish binational phosphorus load reduction targets for Lake Erie by February, 2016.

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

The 40 percent reduction targets are based on 2008 loading levels. Both countries have committed to develop domestic plans to meet the targets by no later than February 2018:

“The first step in our urgent work together to protect Lake Erie from toxic algae, harmful algal blooms, and other effects of nutrient runoff, is to establish these important phosphorus limits,” noted McCarthy. “But, establishing these targets is not the end of our work together. We are already taking action to meet them.”

The targets address three priorities:

  • To minimize the extent of hypoxic zones in the waters of the central basin of Lake Erie: a 40 percent reduction in total phosphorus entering the western and central basins of Lake Erie—from the United States and from Canada—to achieve an annual load of 6,000 metric tons to the central basin. This amounts to a reduction from the United States and Canada of 3,316 metric tons and 212 metric tons respectively.
  • To maintain algal species consistent with healthy aquatic ecosystems in the nearshore waters of the western and central basins of Lake Erie: a 40 percent reduction in spring total and soluble reactive phosphorus loads from the following watersheds where algae is a localized problem: in Canada, Thames River and Leamington tributaries; and in the United States, Maumee River, River Raisin, Portage River, Toussaint Creek, Sandusky River and Huron River (Ohio).
  • To maintain cyanobacteria biomass at levels that do not produce concentrations of toxins that pose a threat to human or ecosystem health in the waters of the western basin of Lake Erie: a 40 percent reduction in spring total and soluble reactive phosphorus loads from the Maumee River in the United States.

The commitments comes on the heels of an algal bloom in 2015 that both governments describe as the largest Lake Erie has seen in over a century.

A binational consultation process took place last summer, involving more than 40 experts working with Environment and Climate Change Canada and the EPA. More than 50 Canadian individuals, groups and agencies representing agricultural and other non?governmental organizations, conservation authorities, municipal governments, Ontario government agencies, First Nations, and universities commented during the draft process through an online tool and face?to?face discussions.

A technical report recommending the phosphorus reduction targets can be read here.

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