Sea Scouts fight toxic algae blooms
The coast of Lake Erie is an idyllic place to live. We are fortunate to have an abundance of drinking water and a plethora of leisure activities that the lake affords us. We use the lake for swimming, boating, fishing, and a host of other activities. It's also a beautiful view.
Unfortunately, those activities and even our drinking water can sometimes be shut down or interrupted because of pollution or harmful algal blooms. In August 2014, the city of Toledo had to stop providing drinking water for three days because of a harmful algal bloom on Lake Erie. Every summer, there are water quality alerts for dangerous bacteria levels at Huntington Beach.
What's causing this, and is there anything that we can do about it so that we can enjoy the lake more? These are some of the questions that a group of seventh-grade Bay Sea Scouts hopes to answer with research and a scientific experiment.
Our team took a field trip to Stone Lab, The Ohio State University's research facility on Gibraltar Island, this past September. While there, we got to discuss and learn from students, researchers, and faculty about the harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie's western basin. We learned that one of the causes of the harmful algal blooms is nitrogen and phosphorus that end up in the lake. The nitrogen and phosphorus come from fertilizer applied to farmers' fields and the lawns of homes and businesses. What happens on the land affects what happens in the water. It is an interconnected system and community.
All of our lakefront communities, including Bay Village, are a watershed. A watershed is a land area that channels rainfall and snowmelt to creeks, streams, and rivers and eventually to outflow points like Huntington Beach, the Bay Boat Club, Columbia Beach Falls, and Sperry Creek.
You may have noticed that all the drainage grates and curb inlets have signs that read "drains to the lake." This is because the land absorbs some of the rain when it rains, but the excess mixes with what is on the land and becomes run-off. If the land is planted with plants that have lots of roots, the roots of the plants can take up the rainwater and any excess nitrogen and phosphorus before it gets to the creeks and eventually the lake.
The team wanted to know what plants do a good job absorbing nitrogen and phosphorus. We spoke to Cuyahoga County Soil and Water Conservation District. We helped plant a rain garden in Rocky River. We talked to several local nurseries and chose five native perennial plants to test over time to see how they do taking up nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizer. At the end of the experiment, we recommend some plants that homeowners along the creeks can use to plant in their riparian zones.
In the meantime, there are a few things that all of us can do. First, we can reduce the amount of fertilizer we use. Try to use only as much as you need to, apply it specifically to the area that needs it, and pay attention to the weather forecast, not apply it before heavy rain. Second, pick up pet waste, even in your own yard. Pet waste contributes to the bacteria levels in the lake.
The homeowners living along the creeks have a special opportunity to help. The first thing they can do is not mow up to the edge of the creek's bank. It is best to leave an unmowed strip of several feet. The roots of the grass will grow deeper if the grass is not trimmed regularly. Plant native trees and perennial plants along the creeks and waterways. Plants with deep roots will help reduce run-off, stabilize the banks, improve water quality, and provide a habitat for wildlife.
We all enjoy the lake and want to continue to do so. With some effort, we can directly impact the water quality and how much we can all enjoy Lake Erie!
Our team, sponsored by Bay Sea Scouts, is entering our project in the eCyberMission STEM competition sponsored by the U.S. Army Education Outreach Program.
Addison Graham, Becket Tumney, Orion Riddell and Riley Campbell
The adult leader with Bay Sea Scouts, contact firstname.lastname@example.org