Western Lake Erie is again dealing with nutrient pollution and harmful algae this year, and environmental groups say the states around the lake—including Indiana—aren’t doing enough to keep the water clean.
Water that flows into western Lake Erie — from Ohio, Michigan, Ontario, Canada and Indiana — carries a lot of nutrients that come from farms and urban areas. And when those nutrients hit warm lake water during the summer, algae grows.
But some of those algae are toxic to humans and aquatic life. This year’s bloom is one of the largest on record; the 2014 bloom was so bad it shut down Toledo’s water treatment plant.
And Molly Flanagan, vice president of policy at the Alliance for the Great Lakes, says a report her organization helped write shows efforts by Ohio, Michigan and Ontario to reduce nutrient runoff into the Lake Erie watershed proceed at a “painfully slow” pace.
But what about Indiana? The Maumee River, which starts in Fort Wayne, is one of the largest rivers to flow into Lake Erie.
“The short answer is that Indiana’s not doing much,” Flanagan says.
Flanagan says while Indiana doesn’t actually border Lake Erie, it does contribute nutrient pollution.
“And so it’s been easy for Indiana to duck responsibility in terms of doing its fair share,” she says.
Indiana did not make a commitment with Ohio, Michigan and Ontario to reduce nutrient pollution by 40 percent by 2025, but Flanagan says the Alliance will continue to put pressure on the state to reduce nutrient runoff.
A spokesperson for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, Barry Sneed, says the state did not join the 2015 regional agreement because it was “already engaged in the binational Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement Annex 4 process,” an agreement between the United States and Canada to, in part, develop “reduction strategies” for phosphorous pollution by 2018.
Marty Benson, a spokesperson for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, says the state has spent over $800,000 on projects in the Lake Erie watershed to reduce nutrient pollution, including on wetland restoration. Wetlands can suck nutrients out of water before it enters rivers and streams.