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New plan to reduce Great Lakes phosphorus levels

Lighthouse near Lake Erie

Commentary By Mark Reusser, Vice President,Ontario Federation of Agriculture

A new proposed action plan to reduce phosphorus levels in Lake Erie has been developed by the Canadian and Ontario governments. The Domestic Action Plan summarizes and seeks input on proposed actions to meet our commitments under the Canada-U.S. Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. Lake Erie has been the main focus for phosphorus reduction in the Great Lakes. The result of excess phosphorus entering Lake Erie has been algal blooms that can be harmful to human health and the environment. The Canadian and Ontario governments recognize the complexity of this issue, and the many sources of phosphorus entering Lake Erie. Identified sources include runoff from cities and towns, agricultural sources, sewage treatment plants, airborne particles, septic systems and industrial discharges. Climate change, altered hydrologic patterns, changes in land use and the arrival of invasive species like zebra and quagga mussels also add to the algal bloom problems.

The draft Domestic Action Plan recognizes the large number of contributing factors and proposes guiding principles to address phosphorus reduction in Lake Erie and surrounding watersheds. The plan identifies actions for government, municipalities, conservation authorities, Indigenous communities, and partners in key sectors, including agriculture and industry, to help reduce phosphorus entering Lake Erie by 40%.

The Domestic Action Plan is open to public comment until May 24. The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) will be submitting comments on the proposed actions. In the meantime, OFA continues to work closely with farmers, commodity organizations and collaborative groups like the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative (GLSLCI) towards improving water quality.

Ontario farmers are already taking action to reduce phosphorus entering the watersheds and Great Lakes by adopting the 4R Nutrient Stewardship principles. Working groups have been organized across Ontario agricultural organizations to evaluate agronomic practices to reduce nutrient loss, like cover crops and timing of nutrient applications. Agricultural groups are also working with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs to develop an Agricultural Soil Health and Conservation Strategy, another valuable resource in the lineup of efforts to reduce phosphorus loss into our Great Lakes.

Ontario’s Great Lakes Basin includes 95% of Ontario’s agricultural land. As farmers, we know how important it is to keep our environment healthy, including our soil, waterways and the Great Lakes. We’re committed to reducing phosphorus entering Lake Erie and are diligently working with collaborative groups, research initiatives and continuing to improve our farming practices to make a difference.

Courtesy of Ontario Federation of Agriculture

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