Federal Water Tap, September 30: Algae in Lake Erie

Too Many Vitamins
A phosphorous target for the Maumee River, a key tributary, and prohibitions on certain fertilizers in lawn-care products are two of 15 recommendations in a draft plan for reducing algal blooms in Lake Erie. The plan comes from the commission that manages waters shared by Canada and the United States.

The International Joint Commission, which was driven to act after a record bloom in 2011, also suggests that federal governments in the two countries link crop insurance subsidies to farm conservation practices. Non-point sources, namely agriculture and urban sewers, are the chief culprits for the algae, which sucks up oxygen needed by fish and is toxic in some forms.

“Our advice to governments pulls no punches because the science indicates that without major changes, especially in farming practices, we won’t see any substantial improvement in Lake Erie’s health,” said Lana Pollack, U.S. chair of the IJC.

Comments on the draft report are being accepted through October 5 and can be submitted via this link.

Colorado River Delta Pulse Flow
It’s coming, but the Bureau of Reclamation, the river’s federal manager, does not know exactly when the high-volume, wetland-restoring flow will occur.

Last November, the United States and Mexico signed Minute 319, in which the two sides agreed to send a one-time flush of 129.5 million cubic meters (105,000 acre-feet) through the dry Colorado River Delta by 2017. A binational working group, comprising federal officials and scientists, water managers, academics, and environmental groups will have a draft plan for the pulse flow ready by the end of the year or early 2014, Jennifer McCloskey told Circle of Blue. McCloskey is the deputy regional director for the Bureau of Reclamation’s Lower Colorado River office.

The pulse flow will then occur sometime between 2014 and 2016, McCloskey said. Much of the water will come from the water saved by fixing leaks in Mexican irrigation canals. McCloskey said that the question about what happens with the pulse flow in the event of a shortage declaration on the river, which could come as early as 2016, had not been raised before and has not been discussed.

Dead Zone Lawsuit
A U.S. district judge is forcing the Environmental Protection Agency to make a formal decision about whether pollution limits are necessary to control the annual low-oxygen dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, NOLA.com reports. The EPA has 180 days from the September 20 ruling to issue its decision on standards for nitrogen and phosphorous, most of which are washed off of farm fields upstream.

Spoiled Aquifers
Saltwater intrusion happens when too much water is pumped from a well and the ocean seeps inland through the porous ground. This can sour a drinking water well and it is a problem for many coastal communities, particularly in Florida where the geology is akin to Swiss cheese.

The U.S. Geological Survey released two items of interest for these areas: a study on how to improve salinity monitoring networks and a modeling tool to help predict the effect of groundwater pumping on saltwater intrusion.

Federal Water Tap is a weekly digest spotting trends in U.S. government water policy. To get more water news, follow Circle of Blue on Twitter and sign up for our newsletter.

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