by Brenda Zollitsch

Well it’s that time of year again – good old “back to school” time.  With that fleeting “new lunchbox” smell and spiral notebooks still unbent, the coming school year represents a new beginning, brimming with promise.   My kids and I have spent our free time this summer taking walks, hiking, paddling, learning and observing in wetlands.  Is that all over now that it is time to return to school?  Not a chance!

In celebration of the new semester, I thought I would share with you some resources to help kids stay connected with wetlands throughout the school year.  And for those of you adult learners who feel like learning about wetlands this fall, I include some fun learning opportunities for you too!

If you are looking to integrate the study of wetlands into school curriculum:

  • Project WET works with children, parents, teachers and community members to deliver water education that promotes awareness of water and empowers community action to solve complex water issues.  Their offerings include water resource education materials, training workshops, provide assistance in developing water festivals, and experiential learning projects that lead to sustainable solutions on community water resource issues.
  • National Wildlife Federation’s Eco-Schools USA Program combines effective “green” management of the school grounds, the facilities and the curriculum through school-based action teams of students, administrators, educators and community volunteers.  Their focus is on providing students with a unique, research and application based learning experience.
  • Our Wetlands, Our World provides information and activities to help high school students learn about the importance of wetlands and to become involved in the restoration of these valuable, unique environments. It also helps bring State Content Standards to life by linking science concepts to local resources. The focus of the guide is on Upper Newport Bay in Orange County; however, much of the information is applicable to other wetland sites.
  • Teachers can also work with local wetland centers and grantors to develop independent wetland learning projects, like the Growing Wetlands in the Classroom project by Lynnhaven River NOW and the Elizabeth River Project working with local schools.  With creativity, good science, planning – the sky’s the limit!

If you want to create a more individual wetland connection for your own children, a youth group or homeschoolers, opportunities abound:

  • Watch and talk with your kids about online wetland science videos. A great example is Bill Nye the Science Guy’s “Wetlands” video on YouTube and use these discussion questions to think more about it.
  • Visit a wetland. Wetlands are everywhere! Ask a local nature organization or check out a state map to find one near you.  We like to visit both wetland trails and centers that include interpretive exhibits, information and programs.  Great choices include wetlands at Audubon sites and National Estuarine Reserves.

If you find yourself in the mood to go back to “school” this fall to learn some more about wetlands, we encourage you to enroll in wetland-related courses at a local university, through a professional certification program or just dabble in the following offerings:

  • Sign-up for the Wetlands Training Institute’sWetland E-Sessions on wetlands delineations, regulatory policy, nationwide permits, and jurisdiction determinations.

  • And stay tuned! The Association of State Wetland Managers (ASWM) is going to be piloting a variety of new ASWM online training offerings on wetland topics in the not so distant future!

However you chose to connect, wetland education and activities abound both this fall and year-round.  And yes, it’s back to school time – with opportunities for wetlands to be front and center!

Posted in children, classroom, education, wetland books, wetland education, wetland science, wetland videos, wetlands | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wetlander's Pick of the PostsCalifornia water rights: You can’t manage what you don’t measure

By Ted Grantham and Joshua Viers – UC David Center for Watershed Sciences – California Water Blog – August 20, 2014
California water experts have long known the amount of surface water granted by water rights far exceeds the state’s average supplies. Historically, the over-allocation has not raised much concern; in most years, there has been enough runoff of rain and snowmelt to go around. But circumstances are changing. California is suffering the third driest year in a century and demands for water are at an all-time high. The huge gap between allocations and natural flows — coupled with great uncertainty over water-rights holders’ actual usage — is increasingly creating conflicts between water users and confusion for water managers trying to figure out whose supplies should be curtailed during a drought. For full blog post, click here.

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View from the blog-o-sphereTropical testate amoebae as hydrological indicators?

International Society for Testate Amoeba Research – July 30, 2014
Testate amoebae have been successfully used as indicators of past changes in peatland hydrology, particularly ombrotrophic (i.e., nutrients derived exclusively from precipitation) peatlands of north-temperate and boreal regions.  Over the past couple decades, many ecological studies of testate amoebae have been performed in these northern bogs, allowing empirical relationships between community composition and surface moisture to be described. Because the shells of testate amoebae preserve well in the acidic and anaerobic environment of bogs, these modern relationships have been used to infer past changes in the relative wetness of the bog surface from the composition of subfossil communities.  Much recent work has focused on the validation and interpretation of testate amoeba paleohydrological records from bogs, and their application to pressing global change questions.
For full blog post, click here.

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By Marla J. Stelk, Policy Analyst, ASWM

I have experienced first-hand the losing battle with invasive species. It’s a battle I fight every year just trying to stop the advancement of Asiatic Bittersweet which is killing almost every tree in the wooded area behind our back yard. I have seen the devastation that invasive species can wreck on
habitats, flora and fauna so it’s not a subject I take lightly. But in my efforts to understand the issues and practices involved in addressing the issue of invasive species, I continually find myself at odds with the overwhelmingly prevalent practice of rapid eradication – particularly with methods that employ toxic chemicals such as glyphosate or the introduction of new exotic species.

In trying to explain my consternation, my mind constantly evokes the analogy of those annoying pharmaceutical commercials that promise to alleviate suffering from specific ailments by taking this or that new drug. But wait, you may also experience this barrage of side effects such as blurred vision, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, feelings of suicide, hair loss, skin lesions, cancer, stroke, internal bleeding, infertility, etc., etc., etc. – are you really willing to take these risks just to alleviate one condition? I suppose it depends on the level of your suffering, but nevertheless, the “solution” doesn’t come without significant trade-offs. And do these “solutions” really address the underlying causes of suffering?

Similarly in regard to invasive species management, have we really done our due diligence to research the potential short term and long term side effects of our current management strategies for eradicating invasive species? For example, do we really know the long-term implications of the widespread use of glyphosate in wetlands? Some studies indicate that glyphosate may pose a threat to human health (including celiac disease and gluten intolerance) and certain species of frogs. What happens when the soils, flora or fauna reach a tipping point in the amount that they can bioaccumulate? Are our “solutions” really addressing the root causes of why invasive species have proliferated? And have we really done due diligence to study these species, learn about them and learn from them – in other words, have we fully considered what hidden benefits these species may be offering in our panic to eradicate them?

For example, in the American southwest, Tamarix has spread rapidly and has been targeted as an invasive species. Tamarix is a native tree-shrub that was intentionally introduced into the U.S. from Eurasia. Its deep root system, tolerance for saline conditions, and prolific seed production has made it extremely adaptive to riparian areas of the America West where water tables have dropped and water flows and spring floods have decreased. According to a 2008 article in Restoration Ecology, Tamarix is viewed by many as a key factor in the decline of riparian habitats because its establishment occurred concurrently with the decline of those ecosystems. Invasive species in general are seen as a threat to biodiversity. We should be fair, however, and consider a more logical theory that the loss of biodiversity is not the fault of invasive species – they are simply taking advantage of the stage we have set. It’s widely known that invasive species proliferate in areas altered by human activity.

It has been discovered in certain places, that Tamarix actually provides critical habitat for birds, among others, the Yellow-billed Cuckoo whose western population is a candidate for federal endangered species status due to riparian habitat loss. The Southwestern Willow Flycatcher, a federally listed endangered species, breeds in both native (willow) and exotic (Tamarix) habitat types and research by Owen et al. conclude that “there was no indication that birds breeding in Tamarix were suffering negative physiological effects compared to those in native habitats.” (Sogge, Sferra & Paxton, p. 149) This is not to imply that Tamarix is somehow superior or even equal in ecological value to native riparian vegetation. However, the case can be made that it provides an important ecosystem benefit in the absence of suitable habitat for previously existing native vegetation that, for a variety of reasons, may or may not be able to reestablish itself.

Our most recent “solution” to eradicate Tamarix is to introduce the exotic Tamarix beetle. The beetle was imported from Kazakhstan and has an incredible appetite for the Tamarix tree/shrub. However, it is not site specific. This means that it does not discriminate between Tamarix living in areas where it does not offer habitat or ecosystem benefits and Tamarix that is providing critical habitat for threatened or endangered species. What happens when we rapidly eradicate Tamarix without giving sufficient time for willow to reestablish itself? According to Sogge, Sferra and Paxton, Tamarix “can fulfill an important habitat role for some species, especially in areas where degraded riparian systems preclude the establishment of native vegetation.” (Sogge, Sferra & Paxton, p. 150) In fact, they go on to point out that “cuckoos have all but disappeared in the lower Pecos valley from Six-Mile Dam near Carlsbad to the border of Texas following a large-scale Tamarix removal project from 1999 through 2006.”

Invasive species are successional – they take advantage of landscapes that humans have altered and/or degraded and are incredibly adaptive. They survive and flourish where the “native” species cannot. I suggest that in an age of climate change and the recognized need to develop more resilient and adaptive communities and land management practices that we may have a lot to learn from invasive species and a lot to gain by considering them as a component in a more site specific management strategy. Certainly, in many cases they can be too much of a good thing, but in other cases they are providing really important successional and ecosystem benefits. To label them as “invasive” feels unjust and overly subjective. We would be better served by managing them within a more holistic restoration framework for land management that works within a more natural long-term time frame.

And speaking of long-term time frames, we have many species that exist in North America that are widely embraced by society which were originally exotics introduced from abroad such as pheasants, earthworms and honeybees. Pheasants came from western Asia to Europe and then to America. About 33% of U.S. earthworms came over from Europe and 100% of honeybees came over from Europe. Should we stop protecting and restoring pheasant habitat? Should we eradicate all earthworms from our soils? How about honeybees? We have most certainly come to rely on their pollination benefits.

What happens when species move to follow the shift of their habitats due to climate change? If mangroves move into Georgia and South Carolina will we attempt to exterminate them with glyphosate if they displace other species who cannot relocate? And let’s consider Quaking Aspens – a huge tourist attraction out West. Quaking Aspens are the first successional species to repopulate forested areas after a major forest fire. Their relatively short life span allows them “to decompose and put nutrients back into the forest floor more often than other trees.” (Weiber) In fact, according to a recent article, even though they are invasive, they are considered a “keystone species” because they help to maintain local biodiversity. What is displacing them? The conifers and junipers that were there before the aspens.

As expressed in a publication by Dr. Jack Dekker, “The concept of ‘invasive species’ has broader social, economic and political implications, emphasizing the differences in how humans perceive weedy and colonizing species.” (p. 73) He goes on to say “Human perception of what is natural and indigenous, what is disturbed and artificial, is therefore compromised to some degree. In one form or another, willingly or not, the earth is the garden of humanity. The equivocal nature of what harm is caused by invasive species is therefore confounded by the heterogeneous array of human viewpoints and aesthetic values of what is desirable in landscapes. This heterogeneity of opinion is not resolvable but remains at the core of invasion biology because values guide activity and management. For better or worse, the actualization of human values creates opportunity space for new species to invade: they are a direct reflection of human activity.” (p.79)

Indeed, the human species has promoted greater homogeneity year after year – particularly when it comes to agriculture – one of the greatest land modifiers. One of the biggest drivers of homogeneity has been through monoculture farming practices and a market system which favors economies of scale. Driven by profits, we can make more money by reducing per unit costs of production. We all know it costs less per unit to produce a dozen of the same apples than it costs to produce one of many varieties. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the world has over 50,000 edible plants. Just three of them, rice, maize and wheat, provide 60 percent of the world’s food energy intake – only a few hundred contribute significantly to food supplies. Just 15 crop plants provide 90 percent of the world’s food energy intake. And let me throw another wrench in this – what about hybrids and genetically modified organisms….

So how does one define “native” species? What are the boundaries (spatial and temporal) for those definitions? Does evolution preclude the concept of preservation? At what point do invasive species become native or do they? I am a fan of preservation and conservation and, as most folks do, I find change to be both exciting and terrifying at the same time. But for Peat’s Sake, rather than adopting eradication as the solution to the presence of an invasive species, let’s sit back, re-evaluate and consider the bigger picture.

References:

A Short History of Honeybees on Earth. Retrieved August 22, 2014 from Let it Bee Apiaries

Blakemore, R.J. (December, 2008). American earthworms (Oligochaeta) from north of the Rio Grande – a species checklist. Retrieved from Annelid Resources, Earthworm.

Buffin, D. and Jewell, T. (July, 2001). Health and environmental impacts of glyphosate: The implications of increased use of glyphosate in association with genetically modified crops. Friends of the Earth.

Dekker, J. (2009). The Evolutionary Ecology of Weeds and Invasive Plants. Retrieved online from Agronomy Department, Iowa State University

Lanctôt, C., Robertson, C., Navarro-Marti̒n, L., Edge, C., Melvin, S.D., Houlahan, J., Trudeau, V.L. (2013). Effects of the glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup WeatherMax® on metamorphosis of wood frogs (Lithobates sylvaticus) in natural wetlands. Aquatic Toxicology, 140-141; 48-57.

Owen, J.C., Sogge, M.K. & Kern, M.D. (2005). Habitat and Sex Differences in Physiological condition of Breeding Southwestern Willow Flycatchers (Empidonax Traillii Extimus). The Auk, 122(4):1261-1270.

Pheasant History, Ecology & Biology. Retrieved August 22, 2014 from Pheasants Forever website.

Reed, G. (April 30, 2013). New Review Points to Glyphosate’s Dangerous Health Effects. Food & Water Watch.

Samsel, A. and Seneff, S. (2013). Glyphosate, pathways to modern diseases II: Celiac sprue and gluten intolerance. Interdisciplinary Toxicology, 6(4): 159-184. SETOX & IEPT, SASc.

Sogge, M.K., Sferra, S.J. & Paxton, E.H. (March, 2008). Tamarix as Habitat for Birds: Implications for Riparian Restoration in the Southwestern United States. Restoration Ecology, 16(1): 146-154.

Staple foods: What do people eat? Retrieved August 22, 2014 online from Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Agriculture and Consumer Protection Department Corporate Document Repository.

Weiber, A. (August 9, 2014). Aspen disappearing in the West. Retrieved online from Reno Gazette-Journal.

Posted in Evolutionary ecology, invasive species, restoration | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wetlander's Pick of the PostsHow Much do Coastal Ecosystems Protect People from Storms and What is It Worth?

By Meg Imholt – NOAA’s Office of Response & Restoration Blog – August 11, 2014
Nearly a year ago, one lawsuit spurred the question–how much do coastal ecosystems protect people from storms and what is that worth? It’s a question NOAA scientists and economists are working to answer.
At NOAA, our job is to protect our coasts, but often, coastal ecosystems are the ones protecting us. When a severe storm hits, wetlands, sand dunes, reefs, and other coastal ecosystems can slow waves down, reducing their height and intensity, and prevent erosion. That means less storm surge, more stable shorelines, and more resilient coastal communities. For full blog post, click here.

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View from the blog-o-sphereThe Gowanus Canal: Ecology & Design Meet in Brooklyn’s Rust Belt

By Colleen Tuite – Great Ecology – July 25, 2014
Late one June afternoon, a motley crew of ecologists, molecular biologists, landscape architects, and a camera crew gathered in a vacant area of South Brooklyn’s salt storage lot. There, we donned Tyvek suits and boots, sorted empty glass jars and plastic hazmat bags, fastened life preservers, and launched canoes into the toxic waters of the Gowanus Canal. Originally a creek running through a saltwater marshland, industry began along the Gowanus in the mid-1600s, as mills were built there to take advantage of water power. In the 19th century, as industry grew the Gowanus Creek was dredged and the canal system constructed – a 1.8 mile waterway linking factories, warehouses, coal stores, and refineries to the Upper New York Bay. By World War I, the Gowanus was the busiest commercial canal in the country, and South Brooklyn a major for industrial production – and, simultaneously, industrial pollution. For full blog post,
click here.

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This past week millions of people experienced heavy rains that flooded downtown areas from Detroit to DC to Portland, Maine.  The record was set on Long Island, NY where a whopping 13 inches fell, resulting in the declaration of a state of emergency as roads, basements and backyards flooded under the intense deluge.

Closer to home, I had my own moments of panic when I heard a loud explosion outside our house.  I grabbed my umbrella and cell phone to investigate, anticipating a call to 911.  Outside in the pounding rain I found a tree branch burning as it bobbed overhead on electric lines.  There were succeeding explosions from the transformers on poles close-by and loud snaps as electricity surged along the damaged wires.  The bad weather and vulnerable infrastructure had combined to create a deadly hazard and I suddenly felt keenly for the many people who had been in the storm’s path as it swept across the country.  Further reflection led me to think about the remarkable combination of natural and manmade infrastructure we take for granted and their sometimes surprising effects on each other.

Mankind has been tinkering with the natural environment for centuries, often with unintended consequences.  An example of this is the tragic story of the great Dustbowl which is sometimes described as “the worst manmade ecological disaster in American history.” The recovery from the dustbowl era led to many changes in land management and eventually the establishment of another manmade ecosystem described as the “corn-soybean ecosystem”.  This ecosystem is located on a landscape populated by perennial tall grass prairie, wet prairie, oak savannah and forests prior to European settlement.  Nowadays it is composed primarily of two plants that must be planted, fertilized and harvested every year to persist. Read more here.

But while the corn-soybean ecosystem is largely an intentional design, mankind has also managed to establish new ecosystems unknowingly.  The ‘plastisphere’ refers to a wholly new type of ecosystem that has evolved to live on the plastic and other garbage dumped into our oceans.  These plastics provide a refuge for pathogens and create new sources of toxic chemicals. Read more here.

How do manmade vs natural ecosystems differ?

A “natural ecosystem” is defined as a system in which there are significant interactions between living and nonliving processes (sometimes called biotic and abiotic).  Natural Ecosystem are broadly divided into two types:  terrestrial and aquatic.  They are generally self-regulating and self-sustaining in that they do not require external inputs to continue to exist. Examples of natural communities include deserts, forests and prairies.

A “manmade ecosystem” also has significant interactions between living and nonliving processes.  They can also be either terrestrial and/or aquatic. The difference is that manmade ecosystems require human efforts to sustain them—generally substantial effort.  For example, the corn-soybean ecosystem would likely shift from corn and soybeans to some combination of perennial plants within a season or two without the active intervention of man.  Read more here. The plastisphere would cease to exist without the ongoing introduction of manmade trash to the ocean. Examples of manmade ecosystems include cropfields, cities, man-made ponds, and cities.

In truth, all of us live in environments that exist along a continuum from natural to manmade ecosystems with remote areas of the nation at one end of the continuum and cities at the other. As a rule manmade ecosystems are greatly simplified when compared to natural ecosystems and, therefore, easier to disrupt and more vulnerable floods, drought, and other natural hazards.  A city cannot rebuild itself without human intervention after a flood.  A forest can.

Nowadays there is a great deal of talk about building communities that are resilient, i.e. better able to withstand floods, drought and other forms of natural catastrophe. But the only way to achieve that is to develop communities and cities that incorporate more of the complexity and redundancy found in natural ecosystems—that are not only more like natural ecosystems—but that incorporate and support natural ecosystems.

It is possible to envision a future where this is possible.  It happens already.  Watching the tree branch bounce and burn on that rainy evening, I called 911 and waited first for the fire department and then the power company to asses and repair the damage.  While I did so the rain put out the fire.  The nearby trees supported the broken branch, muting its bounces and preventing it from falling onto the road below.  The wood of the tree grounded the surges of electricity. Essentially, the natural ecosystem provided protection and insulation from the dangers of the manmade ecosystem.  It happens all the time and there are many actions we can take to care for natural ecosystems so they provide support and protection for the manmade ones.

To learn more about the differences between natural and artificial ecosystems, click here.

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Wetlander's Pick of the PostsThanking America’s Sustainable Farmers

By Christina Badaracco – EPA Blog – It All Starts with Science – July 30, 2014
While working on education and outreach in EPA’s Office of Wetlands, Ocean, and Watersheds, I have been particularly inspired by our work with agriculture. As an environmentalist and a foodie, I love learning about the connection between healthy food and sustainable agriculture, and I am always eagerly looking to share that information with the public. This is why I’m excited about our efforts to interview and feature for the American public “farmer heroes,” who manage the nitrogen and phosphorus pollution on their farms and grow America’s food supply in a sustainable manner.

Through our “Farmer Hero” campaign, and through my own personal purchasing decisions as an informed consumer, I am supporting farmers who protect local land and water resources while undertaking the critical role of producing America’s food supply. For full blog post, click here.

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View from the blog-o-sphereChanging Times: EPA’s Report on National Trends

By Gaelle Gourmelon – EPA Blog – It All Starts with Science – July 24, 2014
Some things in my childhood memories look different when I revisit them as an adult. That tall slide in the playground? It’s really only four feet high. The endless summer bike rides to the beach? They now take ten minutes. Sometimes, however, things seem different because they’ve actually changed. I recently went to a favorite childhood beach and saw that the dock was now stranded in the water, no longer reachable from the beach. Undeniable evidence of the changing coast.

But what evidence do we have to observe real changes over time when it comes to ournational environment? What data can we use to determine if our environment has meaningfully changed?

To help answer these questions, EPA released the draft Report on the Environment 2014 (ROE 2014) for public comment in March, and it will undergo external peer review on July 30-31, 2014. For full blog post, click here.

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Salameanderby Peg Bostwick, ASWM

The drinking water crisis in Toledo, Ohio – resulting from toxins in the water supply produced by blue green algae in Lake Erie – has received a lot of attention in the national news.  Although these reports are compelling, there does seem to be some confusion about whether the bloom was “natural” or human induced, and whether the causes are known or unknown.  A number of news reports called for more research.  For those who live in the Great Lakes region, the need for action is urgent.  Research is good, but delay is not, and another study may be the last thing we need.  We know what needs to be done. The International Joint Commission (IJC) – which represents the interests of both the U.S. and Canada on issues related to the Great Lakes –produced a thorough report this year – A Balanced Diet for Lake Erie: Reducing Phosphorus Loading and Harmful Algal Blooms.

Blooms of blue green algae – including microcystis which produced the toxins in Toledo’s water supply – are most certainly natural phenomena, but the sheer size and increasing frequency of blooms in Lake Erie are largely the result of human actions. These blooms thrive on dissolved reactive phosphorus concentrations in the lake which have increased as a result of agricultural and, to a lesser extent, urban runoff and pointsource discharges.

Lake Erie is by nature the shallowest and most biologically productive of the Great Lakes – especially the western basin – and it also receives the lion’s share of phosphorus from agricultural and urban sources.  Here are some facts gleaned from multiple sources listed at the end of this post:

  • The Detroit River contributes about 90% of the water supplying the western basin of Lake Erie – including the flow from all of the upper Great Lakes as well as urban contributions from the Detroit area – but only about half of the phosphorus load.  By contrast, the Maumee River, which flows through an agricultural area of Ohio, contributes 5% of the water and almost 50% of the phosphorus load.
  • More than half of the phosphorus loading from the entire Lake Erie watershed is from agricultural sources.
  • According to calculations made by the Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan, based on data from Michigan and Ohio, confined animal feeding operations contributed 3,670,841,070 pounds of liquid and solid manure to the River Raisin and Maumee River watersheds in 2013.

As the average temperature of the Great Lakes has increased as a result of climate change, algae blooms have exploded.  While climate change may not be the root cause of the bloom, increasing temperature combined with increased rainfall and nutrient runoff have certainly exacerbated it.  The impact of invasive zebra mussels on the ecology of the lakes has also contributed to the problem.

Although the problem is massive, it is also preventable. Solutions exist, but they require significant action on multiple fronts.  The IJC report includes 16 specific recommendations to address both urban and rural sources of nutrient runoff that will be familiar to anyone who has studied eutrophication and the means to protect our nations’ waters.  Some require international policy changes, while others can be readily implemented by individual property owners. For example, reduction or elimination of the spreading of manure on snow and frozen ground, which would greatly reduce spring nutrient loading.

What Does This Have To Do With Wetlands?

As with many issues related to water, wetland protection and management is one ingredient in a much larger whole, and wetland managers can make a definite contribution to solving the problem.  The IJC report notes that about 80% of Lake Erie’s coastal wetlands have been historically altered or destroyed, degrading both habitat and water quality.  However, extensive restorable areas remain: some 157,000 acres on the U.S. side of the lake alone according to a study by The Nature Conservancy. The IJC recommendations include the use of restored or engineered wetlands to reduce phosphorus loading from urban runoff, as well as in agricultural management.  Ray Stewart and Bill Mitsch of the Ohio Wetlands Association have also noted the potential for establishing wetland buffers between agricultural fields and Lake Erie.

Public Trust or Ugly Politics

It has been pointed out that the Great Lakes belong to our citizens, and that public trust should mandate protection of the quality of these waters for drinking, fishing, and other uses.  Laws like the Clean Water Act are intended to achieve those goals.

Unfortunately, currently proposed rules developed by federal agencies in response to Supreme Court decisions regarding the reach of the Clean Water Act will formalize reductions imposed by the Supreme Court in the protection for “isolated” wetlands. The same wetlands that can trap phosphorus and other pollutants and prevent them from reaching vulnerable public waters, like Lake Erie.  Another rule already set in place by the EPA and the Corps of Engineers expands exemptions for agricultural actions that impact wetlands.  These changes are directly counter to what is needed to protect drinking water in Lake Erie and elsewhere.  We can hope that these proposed changes will ultimately be tempered, and that states (and provinces) will step up where national protection measures fail.

Even more ironic may be that Michigan’s Attorney General Bill Schuette recently joined a legal action by the American Farm Bureau Federation against the USEPA, seeking to invalidate a TMDL developed by state and federal agencies to support the cleanup of Chesapeake Bay – that is, a plan to address the same type of water quality problems that produced toxic drinking water in Toledo. Where waters serve multiple states, and are impacted by multiple states, federal programs that protect these waters are very much needed.  The message, in short, is that state and federal resource protection programs need to work in sync, as planned, to protect critical water resources.

A Fundamental Need for Water, and the Urgent Need for Action

Drinking water is one of our most basic human needs.  One would expect the crisis in Toledo to spur action to address the problem.  But, given the multiple responses that are needed from governments, farmers, conservationists, and others, it is up to all of us to initiate that action. If we do not, then it is certain that we will face this and related problems again, and that drinking water will be compromised elsewhere.  The IJC has defined the steps that are needed for Lake Erie. We just need to implement them.

More reading:

For a link to an IJC comment on the bloom and their report on harmful algal blooms, click here.

For remote images of the Lake Erie bloom from NASA, click here.

For a CBC news article, Lake Erie’s algae explosion blamed on farmers, click here.

For information about the amount of manure discharge from CAFO’s in the Lake Erie watershed from U.S. sources, click here.

For a copy of the American Farm Federation brief in a suit against the U.S. EPA regarding the Chesapeake Bay TMDL, joined by the Michigan AG and others, click here.

For a statement from the Ohio Wetlands Association addressing the Lake Erie algal bloom, click here.

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