WASHINGTON, D. C. – Toxic chemicals in the Great Lakes have dropped but invasive species and algal blooms threaten the lakes’ ecosystems and keep them from being truly great, says a new report from the U.S. and Canadian governments.
The “State of the Great Lakes 2017 Highlights Report” from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and its Canadian counterparts says Lake Erie is in the worst condition. It describes Lake Erie as “deteriorating,” with algal blooms caused by agricultural runoff contaminating drinking water in its western end, and beach fouling and habitat loss plaguing its eastern end.
Positive trends in Lake Erie include increased walleye throughout the lake, declines in sea lamprey injuries to native fish, and a resurgence of native plants in Michigan and Ohio after a successful campaign to reduce invasive phragmites.
Environmental groups say the report underscores the need for the United States and Canada to keep supporting Great Lakes restoration efforts. A budget proposal released by President Donald Trump zeroed out funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, but members of Congress from the Great Lakes area say they’ll fight to retain it.
“As the report makes clear, progress is being made–but serious threats remain, ” said a statement from National Wildlife Federation scientist Michael Murray. “Lake Erie’s deteriorating health serves as a warning that public officials on both sides of the border cannot let their guards down. The millions of people who rely on the Great Lakes for their drinking water, health, jobs and way of life are counting on public officials to continue to make Great Lakes restoration and protection a top priority.”
Here are some highlights from the report produced by 180 government and non-government Great Lakes scientists:
Water quality: The Great Lakes remain a source of high quality drinking water, and its beaches are mostly swimmable, although some are unsafe because of bacterial contamination.
Fish quality: Many of its fish are edible, but they contain enough contamination that their consumption should be limited.
Invasive species: Ballast water discharge regulations on trans-oceanic ships is keeping new non-native species from penetrating the lakes, but those already there continue to spread.
Toxic chemicals: Nearly all legacy contaminants like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and mercury, have decreased over the past 40 years. In general, non-legacy compounds, such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), have shown slow declines in recent years, although some replacements for these compounds are increasing in the environment
Algae: The western basin of Lake Erie and some parts of Lake Ontario have had a resurgence of harmful algal blooms due to nutrient pollution since 2008. The blooms damage the ecosystem, commercial fishing, municipal drinking water and recreational activities. Toxins from cyanobacteria (or “blue- green” algae) can cause stomach upsets, skin rashes and can kill some organisms. Other offshore parts of the Great Lakes have deficient levels of the nutrients, starving phytoplankton species that form the base of its food chain.