Water Quality

Massive algae blooms in Lake Erie and elsewhere threaten fisheries, tourism and drinking water.

Joe Atkinson, a professor of environmental engineering and director of the Great Lakes Programs says agriculture is part of the problem. Farmers, in a chase for higher yields, have been accused of overloading their fields with fertilizers and manure, that naturally contain phosphorous and nitrogen. These mix with rain and the runoffs contribute to outsized algae blooms.

Atkinson is studying the movement and mixture of water in Lake Erie’s basins in an attempt to forecast weather conditions and prevent unnecessary runoff from entering waterways. “If we can better predict weather patterns to anticipate heavy rains, then it may be possible to convince farmers to apply fertilizers on different schedules,” he says. “Fertilizers absorbed by soil won’t be in our waters giving algae a free meal.”