Guest blogger Allison Brady recently educated followers of the blog “View From The Lockkeeper’s House” about the impact of phosphorus. The blog recognizes that: “One hundred sixty-five years after its completion and nearly 100 years after its “demise,” the Miami and Erie Canal continues to affect commerce and the local economies of the communities it touches.”
Allison Brady’s guest post is below:
Guest Blogger: Allison Brady “Auglaize Outdoors”
Phosphorus for Dummies
I grew up sailing and swimming in the waters of Lake Erie. In the early 70s the water of my Great Lake was murky. One sign of the lakes’ poor water quality was the green slime that collected on my bathing suit.
Poor water quality is nothing new and our local water problems didn’t just pop-up last year. In the 1970s motor boat props would whip up a trail of soap bubbles that congregated into flotillas of foam.
Laundry detergent was the principal source of phosphorus then affecting our lakes. Today the problem is still phosphorus, but from multiple sources. So what is this chemical and how does it get into our lakes?
Seeing an opportunity for education and material for this column, I attended the Ohio Lake Management conference March 18 in Celina to learn more about harmful algae blooms plaguing our local lake. Gail Hesse from the Ohio EPA began her presentation by stating that “The more you know (about phosphorus), the more you realize what you don’t know.” With my shallow knowledge of chemistry, I quickly discovered that I was in deep water.
Think of phosphorus as plant food because, along with potash and nitrogen, it makes up the primary ingredients in fertilizer. With the chemical symbol of P, atomic number 15, phosphorus is essential for forming cell membranes in all living things. Plants and animals need phosphorus to grow.
So if we need phosphorus for life, why is it a problem? Excess phosphorus in the soil leaches into our waterways. Harmful algae blooms (HABs) are created when a surge of nutrients feed the ever present cyanobacteria (aka, blue-green algae). When there is too much phosphorus in water and conditions are ripe, HABs can occur.
According to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, ¼ of Ohio waters are experiencing problems with HABs and most are concentrated in northwest Ohio, including Grand Lake St. Marys. The intensity of agricultural production in this region, high fertilizer use, and greater quantities of manure are part of the equation.
Where does phosphorus come from? It comes from farm and lawn fertilizer, animal waste, yard clippings, waste water and septic systems, and soil erosion. Adding to the problem is internal loading of phosphorus. Wind, which we have in abundance locally, causes waves that churn up the silty bottom of the lake, reintroducing phosphorus that had settled. Plant and animal waste also release phosphorus into the environment.
Conference speakers offered a great deal of scientific based information but had no silver bullet or single solution to address the problem. There are carrots ($$) to encourage good practices and fines to discourage poor ones. A suite of practices was suggested, prescribed field by field for fertilization of farm land. The development of laws to enforce best practices will help lead to a solution. Manufactures are also moving toward phosphorus-free fertilizers while phosphorus-laden detergents are being regulated.
So what can we do to help? Purchase laundry and dishwasher detergents that reduce or eliminate phosphorus. Test the soil and apply only the prescribed amount of fertilizer on lawns, farms, and gardens. Protect soils from running off into the water. Perhaps the best way one person can have an effect on this big problem is to join with others and support agencies working to find solutions.
Together we can make a difference.
Heritage Trails Park District
Your Auglaize County Parks!
Allison Brady, Executive Director
Heritage Trails Park District
PO Box 63
St. Marys, OH 45885
Web site: htparks.org
The mission of the Heritage Trails Park District is to create and preserve park land for the purpose of conservation, leisure and education for all to enjoy and appreciate.