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Issues Nutrient Pollution Web Meeting

April 23 Web Meeting: How States and Provinces are Currently Managing Nutrient Inflow into the Great Lakes

This web meeting, hosted by the Caucus’s Task Force on Nutrient Management focused on the different approaches state’s in the region are doing to reduce nutrient inflow into the Great Lakes.

Senator Dan Lauwers told us about Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP). A voluntary program initiated in 1998, MEAP recognizes farmers stewardship of their land and helps them adopt cost-effective practices that reduce erosion and runoff into ponds, streams, and rivers. This, in turn, helps farmers comply with state and federal laws. The program begins with the farmers attending an education workshop, then inviting a local MAEAP technician to tour your farm. This is followed by the famer implementing changes or practices recommended by the technician. Then the land is verified as MEAP certified.  Farmers are provided with technical assistance and educational programs to achieve verification. Reverification occurs every 5 years.

The state of Michigan contracts with local conservation districts so that the farmer works with local experts to achieve verification. To date there are 5910 farms verified, covering more than a million acres. The program is self-funded through a fertilizer and pesticide fees.  While this is totally voluntary, it provides land owners with legislated certainty in case of accidental discharges or if a watershed is declared impaired.

Wisconsin provides $750,000 a year to producer-led groups that focus on nonpoint source pollution abatement activities through the Producer-Led Watershed Protection Grant Program.  A minimum of 5 farmers in the same watershed have to collaborate to receive up to $40,000 to advance conservation solutions.  Thirty-one projects have been funded since 2016.  Dr.  Don Niles a veterinarian and dairy producer in one of the densest dairy counties in the nation discussed the producer-led group called Peninsula Pride farms.  This group of 46 farmers in Kewaunee and southern Door counties organized as a non-profit organization to improve surface and ground water quality. The group includes 50 percent of the cows and 50 percent of the acreage in the region.

Peninsula Pride provides its members grants to complete additional water quality efforts with funding coming from the state funds as well as donations from agricultural businesses that support the efforts. Members focus on improving soil health, reducing phosphorus loss and minimize surface effluent. In the last two years, this producer-led organization has over 80,000 acres covered by Nutrient Management Plans as well as installed more than 18,000 acres of cover crops. 

Angie Becker Kudelka, Assistant Director of Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources provided us information on Minnesota’s mandatory riparian protection law.  An initiative of Governor Mark Dayton in 2015, it mandates 50 ft of vegetative buffer along public waters and 16.5 ft on waters of public drainage systems. Local technical assistance and funding was provided to land owners to install the perennial vegetation that protects Minnesota’s waters from surface nutrient pollution. In 75 counties, local officials oversee implementation and the state enforces the law in the remaining counties that decided not to be the enforcing body.

Minnesota also has a voluntary Agriculture Water Quality Certification Program that is similar to Michigan’s, providing financial and technical assistance as well as regulatory certainty to participants. It has over 750,000 acres enrolled by 1049 land owners.

The next webinar, on May 7 will cover programs in Ohio, New York and Ontario. 

The web meeting was the second of six planned for 2021; the next meeting will be May 7, again hosted by the Caucus’s Task Force on Nutrient Management, which developed from the inaugural Patricia Birkholz Institute’s focus on that subject.

Categories
Annual Meeting Issues Nutrient Pollution Web Meeting

Controlling Nutrient Runoff Focus of Second Virtual Session of GLLC’s 2020 Meeting

In most years, on most days, nutrients from the agricultural operations of the Great Lakes region largely stay on the fields. But when heavy rains come, the runoff of phosphorus and other nutrients occurs, as they leave the fields, enter streams, and ultimately reach the lakes. 

“The practices that are in place don’t work during those moments [of big storm events],” said SantinaWortman of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Great Lakes National Program Office during a Sept. 21 meeting of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Legislative Caucus. 

The result is a health and environmental problem that continues to vex the region’s policymakers, particularly those representing the western Lake Erie basin: how to get phosphorus loads below targeted levels in order to prevent harmful algal blooms. 

That issue was the focus of the second of four virtual sessions being held as part of the GLLC’s 2020 Annual Meeting. Along with hearing from Wortman, lawmakers were briefed by Wisconsin Sen. André Jacque on the GLLC’s new model policies for reducing nutrient pollution. Sen. Jacque serves as chair of the GLLC Task Force on Nutrient Management, which developed the policies.  

Wortman spoke to state and provincial legislators about the progress and status of Annex 4 of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, the binational commitment between the United States and Canada (last updated in 2012) to restore and protect the waters of the Great Lakes. Annex 4 outlines the two countries’ plans for reducing nutrient pollution. 

The two nations have determined that a 40 percent reduction is needed in Lake Erie’s western and central basin, and the state governments of Michigan and Ohio as well as the province of Ontario have committed to that same level. Under that state-province Western Lake Erie Collaborative, the 40 percent reduction is supposed to be met by 2025. 

But as Wortman noted in her presentation, progress has been slow, despite new investments and initiatives across the basin. “We haven’t seen any kind of downward trend yet in terms of the [harmful algal] blooms,” she said.  

And since 2012, annual phosphorous loading has exceeded targeted levels every year but one — with that single exception being a very dry year that didn’t have the kind of big rain events that lead to nutrient runoff. 

graph showing severity of algal blooms from 2010 to 2020

According to Wortman, nonpoint source pollution from agricultural operations account for much of the nutrient pollution in western Lake Erie (85 percent in the Maumee River watershed, for example). 

To date, the policy response has centered on voluntary, incentive-based initiatives, such as conservation programs funded by the states or U.S. Farm Bill and “4R” projects that help farmers improve their management practices.  

The states of Michigan and Minnesota offer voluntary certification programs for agricultural operations that meet certain water quality standards and implement state-approved conservation practices. In return for meeting these criteria, farmers receive recognition and regulatory certainty from the state. 

Wisconsin offers grants to groups of agricultural producers that collaborate on new conservation initiatives in a single watershed of the state.  

Most recently, Ohio legislators invested $172 million this biennium in a new H2Ohio Initiative, with one of the four main goals being a reduction in phosphorus runoff that comes from the commercial fertilizer and manure on farmland. The state Department of Agriculture is funding projects that change nutrient-management practices in the counties that make up the Maumee River watershed. State incentives will go to farmers that have been certified as having adopted a mix of nine “best practices” in nutrient management — for example, soil testing and the use of cover crops and edge-of-field buffers. 

Recent initiatives have also targeted reductions in point-source pollution.  

One notable success story, Wortman said, has been the results of facility and operational improvements at the Great Lakes Water Authority, which provides water and sewer services in the Detroit area. 

“It has already achieved a 400-metric-ton reduction, which goes a long way toward Michigan’s [overall] 40 percent reduction goal,” she said, adding that, along with these new initiatives, other positive signs include an increased use of science and monitoring to help inform policymakers. But this research also shows that reducing harmful algal blooms and lowering phosphorus loads could take many years due to factors such as “legacy phosphorus” — the buildup of this nutrient from previous years’ applications. 

“That is going to take some time to work through the system,” Wortman said. “And in any given year, you have a combination of what was applied this year and what was there from before.” 

The GLLC made a reduction in nutrient pollution the focus of its 2019 Patricia Birkholz Institute for Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Policy. Funding for the institute and for the GLLC’s work on nutrient pollution is provided by the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation. 

At the Sept. 21 meeting, the Caucus also voted on the focus for the next Birkholz Institute, which will take place in late 2021. Members chose to concentrate on helping communities to become climate resilient.   

The meeting was recorded and the slide deck is included in the virtual briefing book for the 2020 Virtual Meetings. The GLLC will continue its Virtual Meeting with two more sessions on October 2 and October 9, both starting at 9 am CDT/10 am EDT. Visit the meeting webpage to learn more about the remaining sessions and to register. 

Categories
AIS Coastal Communities Information Issues Nutrient Pollution Toxic Substances Water Consumption

GLLC Statement During June 23 GLEC Meeting

I was pleased to be able to make the following statement today on behalf of the GLLC during the semi-annual meeting of the binational Great Lakes Executive Committee (GLEC):

Thank you for holding this online meeting and giving me the chance to report to the GLEC on behalf of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Legislative Caucus, or GLLC. For those who aren’t familiar with the Caucus, it is a binational, nonpartisan organization of state and provincial legislators serving in the Great Lakes region. The Caucus was founded in 2003 by a group of highly engaged state legislators led by the late Michigan Senator Patty Birkholz.

Today’s meeting has covered a lot of ground. The cleanup of Areas of Concern and the economic benefits that result from those investments of federal, state, and local dollars; high lake levels and the impact they’re having on coastal communities; nutrients and chemicals of emerging concern that affect our drinking water resources; and aquatic nuisance species introduced into or spreading throughout the Great Lakes in ballast water or other means – these issues are all of great importance to the leaders and the members of the GLLC.

We know that moving the needle on all the issues discussed today requires a significant investment on the part of the federal governments, municipalities, and state and provincial governments. And that leads me to make two points.

First, the economic impact of the COVID pandemic will no doubt have an impact on our ability to devote the necessary resources to some of the issues that are most important to the Great Lakes community. We’ll need to manage our expectations in the near term and, ideally, coordinate regionally to identify the most critical investments – those that can have the biggest return or are the most protective of public and environmental health. And we’ll need to work together as a community to increase investments again once we’re through this public health and economic crisis.

Second, investments specifically from the states and provinces will be critical to our collective success in addressing the key issues covered today. Because the GLLC is the only Great Lakes organization whose members can pass laws and appropriate funding at the state and provincial level, I encourage the agencies to engage with GLLC members whenever you can.

Whether it’s speaking on one of the Caucus’s virtual meetings or including GLLC members or staff on stakeholder groups or the Great Lakes Advisory Board, it’s important to make sure state and provincial legislators are part of the discussion. If legislators are going to be asked to prioritize funding for Great Lakes projects over other important activities, they need to know what’s being done, why, and how that work will benefit the lakes and the residents, businesses, and industries that depend on them. Thank you.

Categories
Issues Nutrient Pollution Web Meeting

ICYMI: GLLC Web Meeting on Nutrient Pollution

On March 6, 2020, the GLLC’s quarterly web meeting focused on regional efforts to better manage nutrients to keep them out of the Great Lakes and their tributaries. Wisconsin Sen. André Jacque, Chair of the GLLC Task Force on Nutrient Management, began by reporting on the work of the task force, which aims to reduce nutrient runoff into waters of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region and is working on model policies to bring that about. The task force has adopted a resolution and finalized an action plan. He briefly reviewed the plan’s goals.

Danielle Green of the U.S. EPA Great Lakes National Program Office (GLNPO) gave an overview of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and its “Focus Area 3” (Nonpoint Source Nutrient Reduction, the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, Lake Erie, and Harmful Algal Blooms). FA3 aims to reduce nutrient loads from farmland, reduce untreated stormwater runoff, improve the effectiveness of nonpoint source control, and refine management efforts. Annually, $35 million is spent on research into HABs, about $17.5 million of which is spent in/on Lake Erie.

Dr. Elizabeth Hinchey Malloy, also of GLNPO, gave an overview of the Great Lakes Water Quality Nutrients Annex, which focuses on reducing phosphorus runoff into Lake Erie. Four states have Domestic Action Plans – Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania – and there is a basin-wide plan for Lake Ontario. Dr. Hinchey Malloy briefly mentioned the Canada-Ontario Lake Erie Action Plan and science priorities for agricultural runoff.

Darren Nichols, Executive Director of the Great Lakes Commission, gave a guest presentation on the Commission’s work and priorities, its visit to Washington, D.C., 2020 priorities, and beta testing for policymakers of Blue Accounting software upgrades (on April 10). March 5 was “Great Lakes Day” on Capitol Hill, visiting with Congressmembers and some Canadian MPs.

The slidedeck and recording of the web meeting are available.