Lake, Mountain, Sea Part 1
LAMOSE comes from the words Lake, Mountain, Sea, and is meant to represent the great outdoors that so many of us enjoy and fight to protect. Our products take names of these natural wonders, Mount Robson, Moraine Lake, and the Hudson's Bay to show that we stand in solidarity with protecting these beautiful places. In the spirit of LAMOSE, these next posts will be focused on unveiling an issue of a specific issue that's facing a lake, mountain, or sea. This week, we will be shedding a light on Lake Erie.
Lake Erie's location. Credit: Unknown
A lake so vast, it looks like an ocean. Credit: michiganradio.com 2014
Lake Erie is the fourth largest of the Great Lakes, and is the an important body for the neighboring areas of Ontario, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York. It’s massive near 400 kilometer length provides the industries of eastern Canada and the US with valuable transport, not to mention its recreational potential. Fed by Detroit, Juron, Maumee, Sandusky, Cuyahoga, and other large rivers, the Lake is a natural wonder that draws countless people to see its shores. It was first explored in 1615 by French trailblazer Etienne Brule, and the lake was named after the Erie Indigenous Tribe that originally called the shores home. The body of water was created by the melting glaciers of the Ice Age, the massive icefield scoring gouges into the Earth. The shores of the lake are lush and fertile, further improving the grounds for agricultural industry.
Industry Damages the Ecology
Credit: windsorstar.com 2018
Countless people enjoy the lake, and even more organisms call the lake home. Unfortunately, Lake Erie suffered tremendously in the 1960s as unchecked industrial run off resulted in the body of water experiencing eutrophication. Eutrophication is a phenomenon where algal growth, in Lake Erie’s case it was blue-green algae, grows exponentially due to a large increase of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. While that may seem beneficial, this actually chokes the lake from sunlight as the algae thickens and covers the water's surface. This results in the ever important plants at the lake bottom to die, not being able to get the energy to perform photosynthesis. The snow ball reaction continues, the lack of plants reducing the amount of food available for the next step in the food chain, and on and on. The rapid death that comes afterwards results in the carbon dioxide levels to grow dramatically, effectively asphyxiating the rest of the life within the lake. In addition to the damage it does to the ecosystem, it results in higher costs for municipal water treatment plants and can leave the lake smelling unpleasant. Eutrophication can kill lakes. In addition to the rampant eutrophication, the industrial pollution of the Cuyahoga River resulted in it catching fire in 1969 and caused $100 000 worth in damages. Adjusted for inflation, that’s $631 752. Even though it damaged two railways, it didn’t surprise any news outlets, as it wasn’t the first time it had burned. The water quality was assumed to be a natural consequence! People living around the lake have often been warned not to bathe or drink well water due to fear of the algae bloom. The pollution was so extreme and widely known of, Lake Erie appeared in the Doctor Seuss book The Lorax in 1972. These are only a few of the issues that faced the Lake at the time, and eventually, people began to see that change had to happen.
One of the Cuyahoga River fires. Credit: Time.com
In 1970, the United States created the Environmental Protection Agency, a group that consolidated other agencies into a single program that provided research, monitoring, and enforcement to ensure the quality of the environment. Two years later, US Congress passed the Clean Water Act. It was an ambitious piece of legislation that vowed to protect the cleanliness of America’s rivers. The Act focused on “point sources”, like factories and water treatment plants and ensured that these institutions would keep any discharge clean or otherwise have its own solution to make sure that it would not end up in the rivers. In addition, the act created a national standard for water quality.
Soon after the legislation, Lake Erie began to heal. The discharges into the rivers stopped, and nature started to return the lake to what it was. The reduction did its job and soon several of its beaches were usable again and eventually fish caught from the lake were able to be consumed. However, it didn’t last. There is evidence that industries are continuing to leach more soluble phosphorus into the Great Lake, but this time not intentionally. A study published by the Journal of Environmental Quality in 2017 showed that the lake could be entering a state of re-eutrophication, despite the conservation efforts over the last 40 plus years. The researchers used the data from an already existing automated sampling system that had been checking water quality since 1974 as a baseline. The sampling devices tested the water for amounts of soluble reactive phosphorus (meaning phosphorus that may react with other compounds in the lake), amounts of non dissolved phosphorus, and any other sediment. The researchers found that the Sandusky, Maumee, and Raisin rivers had consistent concerning shifts in the levels, especially in this soluble reactive phosphorus (SRP). The levels decreased in the mid 1980s as expected from the conservation procedures, however, the data showed a large increase in SRP in the early 2000s. All three rivers had at least a 90% increase in soluble reactive phosphorus, which links it to the re-eutrophication Lake Erie is currently undergoing. After cross referencing their findings with records of tilling practices in local agricultural land, the researchers hypothesized that it was a multifaceted cause. They believed that the changes in tilling procedures in combination with a larger surface distribution of fertilizer and the installation of crop drainage systems allowed more phosphorus from the crops to leach into the watershed without going through the treatment procedures. Other possible sources could be from municipal run off from lawns and such. In addition, the weather could worsen the situation, with the more severe weather patterns caused by climate change allowing more and more run off to carry SRP. Everything is connected.
How could have this situation happened again? We knew the dangers, we took precautions. We moved to fix our mistakes. So how? Wired's Gwen Pearson thinks the cause is the logistical hurdle that is enforcing the regulations on the countless independent farms and lawns across municipalities. But I believe that it's not as simple. Even the most important issues can sink into the back of people's minds as time goes on, and it's possible that many people don't see this as a priority right now. Just like several other ecological issues facing humanity at the moment. Out of sight, out of mind. Even with heaps of peer reviewed scientific evidence, convincing people is an emotional job. I believe that it is not in a single institution's responsibility to fix the environmental crisis. It is everyone's responsibility, it lies in the hands of every single person who walks this Earth. This is the only home that we have, and we need to take care of it.
This doesn't have to happen. Credit: pri.org 2014
This case shows that environmental protection isn’t an easy fix. As with all important things, it requires constant vigilance. The small changes to behavior do help admirably, and they are an extremely important step in solving these issues. But actually helping the planet will take a lot of small changes, not a single catch-all kind of solution. We need to be able to roll with the punches because there will always be more that we can do. Don’t settle for a small accomplishment, keep trying to improve how much you create a toll on the Earth, and take that into your life. Rise and grind LAMOSE team, we can do it together! #LAMOSEGo
Let's make sure that every lake can be as beautiful as Alberta's Moraine Lake!
1970s Lake Erie:
Lake Erie History:
Clark, C. M., Bell, M. D., Boyd, J. W., Compton, J. E., Davidson, E. A., Davis, C., . . . Blett, T. F. (2017). Nitrogen-induced terrestrial eutrophication: Cascading effects and impacts on ecosystem services. Ecological Society of America,8(7). doi:10.1002/ecs2.1877
Jacobson, P. C., Hansen, G. J., Bethke, B. J., & Cross, T. K. (2017). Disentangling the effects of a century of eutrophication and climate warming on freshwater lake fish assemblages. PLOS Medicine. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0182667
Jarvie, H. P., Johnson, L. T., Smith, D. R., Baker, D. B., Bruulsema, T. W., & Confesor, R. (2017). Increased Soluble Phosphorus Loads to Lake Erie: Unintended Consequences of Conservation Practices. Journal of Environmental Quality,46(1), 123-132. doi:10.2134/jeq2016.07.0248