Western Lake Erie basin states to receive extra $5 million to fight algal bloom

By Whitney Forman-Cook

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WASHINGTON, Aug. 14, 2015 - USDA will make another $5 million of Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) funding available to Ohio, Michigan and Indiana producers who commit to limiting growth of toxic algal blooms in Lake Erie.

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A water quality problem as complex as the one in the western Lake Erie basin “will demand wide attention, from agriculture to municipalities,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a press release. The same USDA statement cited a range of causes for algal blooms, including water temperature, lack of agitation, rainfall and runoff from farms and lawns, zebra mussels and the impacts of climate change.

“We will continue to work with the Western Lake Erie Basin Partnership and other partners across the region to find common ground to address water quality issues” in the region, Vilsack added.

The EQIP funding announced today will help farmers within the basin limit the amount of nutrient - which fuels the growth of algal blooms - from leaving their farms. Farmers may implement a range of practices to this end, including adding gypsum to soil, implementing conservation tillage or no-till systems on crop fields or installing agricultural drainage water management systems.

This year USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has allocated about $7.6 million in cost share funding and grants for farmers and ranchers in the basin who have agreed to plant cover crops, use improved nutrient management methods or employ other conservation practices on their working lands. NRCS also invested $17.5 million in the basin through the new nation-wide Regional Conservation Partnership Program.

According to USDA, between 2009 and 2014 NRCS programs have helped farmers reduce annual nutrient and sediment losses by approximately 7 million pounds of nitrogen, 1.2 million pounds of phosphorus, and 488,000 tons of sediment in the Lake Erie Basin.

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