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Groups Suggest Policies to Address Blue-Green Algae

PHOTO: With warm temperatures and plenty of sunlight, summer is prime time for the spread of blue-green algae that can threaten the health of Indiana's lakes and reservoirs. Photo credit: Willem van Aken, CSIRO/Wikimedia.
PHOTO: With warm temperatures and plenty of sunlight, summer is prime time for the spread of blue-green algae that can threaten the health of Indiana's lakes and reservoirs. Photo credit: Willem van Aken, CSIRO/Wikimedia.
June 16, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS – With summer getting underway, experts say blue-green algae fueled by nutrient pollution are certain to return to lakes and streams in Indiana.

Kim Ferraro, water and agriculture policy director with the Hoosier Environmental Council, says while some forms of algae are good for the ecosystem, the blue-green kind can deplete oxygen in the water for aquatic life and turn toxic, such as the blue-green algae that's been plaguing Lake Erie – but Lake Erie isn't alone with the problem.

"The algae impacts the entire watershed," says Ferraro. "Here in Indiana, there are always at least 20 some-odd lakes and water bodies that they find with really high levels of cyanobacteria, which is the same thing as blue-green algae."

Algae growth is promoted by sunlight, warm weather and agricultural runoff made up of nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management provides weekly updates on blue-green algae levels in the state.

Following a weekend summit of Great Lakes leaders, Governor Mike Pence issued a statement saying the state has made "great progress" in reducing the amount of phosphorus entering the Lake Erie basin, and remains committed to addressing the problem. But Ferraro says more action is needed.

"The best that we've done is to sort of come up with some voluntary best-management practices," she says. "But without some sort of enforcement mechanism behind them they're not really being followed, and they're just not doing the trick."

Ferraro suggests policies limiting the amount of nutrients and fertilizers on farm fields, as well as reducing the amount of manure from large, confined feeding operations. The Hoosier Environmental Council is among more than 50 groups that sent a letter to the governors of the Great Lakes states urging action to ensure the lakes are free of harmful algal blooms.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IN