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New report concludes Great Lakes are not well protected from farm runoff

algae

The Great Lakes need more protection from farm runoff—that was one of the major conclusions of a recent report conducted by the International Joint Commission (IJC).

The IJC is responsible for preventing and resolving disputes regarding lakes and rivers along the Canada-United States border, which includes most of the Great Lakes. But the organization’s latest report, released on Wednesday, stated that voluntary measures to protect the world’s largest freshwater lakes from manure have been insufficient.

With the exception of Lake Superior, the runoff from farms is an issue for all of the Great Lakes. According to the IJC, the problem is most pronounced in Lake Erie, where out-of-control algae growth has created what’s known as “dead zones.” This refers to water in which oxygen levels are so low that no plant or animal life can survive. 

In the report, the organization attributes much of this harmful algae growth to intensive livestock operations that allow animal waste to find its way into the water. This waste is rich in phosphorus, which can sometimes cause algae to grow faster than the ecosystem can handle.

To combat these issues, the IJC said that both Canadian and U.S. governments need to put specific legislation in place that protects the Great Lakes.

In addition to the amount of manure entering the lakes, the report also criticized the lack of progress made in identifying harmful chemicals in the lakes, which are a source of drinking water for more than 40 million people. 

It also said that, despite the strong actions taken to curb the introduction of new invasive species, there’s still a strong need to fight the spread of those already living in the Great Lakes system.

The report is the first in a triennial assessment of the progress Canadian and U.S. governments are making toward improving the Great Lakes’ water quality.

The public is invited to share their comments regarding the report online or in person. Meetings will be held in March across several locations in both Canada and the U.S., including Ontario cities such as Sault Ste. Marie, Sarnia, and St. Catherines.