Government Regulatory Panel.

PositionA State-Provincial Approach to Harmful Algal Blooms in the Great Lakes Basin: Possibilities and Pitfalls

Moderator: Stephen J. Petras, Jr.

Speakers: Katrina Kessler, Karen Stainbrook, Dr. Madeline Magee, Michael Alexander, Chitra Gowda, Tricia Mitchell & Dr. Lucinda Johnson

MR. PETRAS: So, first, we're going to move into the regulator panel. We have seven panelists. We're allowing an hour and fifteen minutes for this panel. We've asked each panelist to give a brief summary of their thoughts and insights in response to this presentation in three to five minutes. Some will have PowerPoint slides, some won't. I do want to introduce the whole panel first, and then we'll go through each presenter.

We have Michael Alexander, who is Manager, Surface Water Assessment Section, Water Resources Division, Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy for the State of Michigan.

We also have, next, from Minnesota is Katrina Kessler. She's Assistant Commissioner for Water and Agriculture Policy, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for the State of Minnesota.

From New York, we have two panelists. Karen Stainbrook, Chief of Lake Monitoring and Assessment Section, and Donald Zelazny, Great Lakes Program Coordinator, both with the Department of Environmental Conservation for the State of New York.

From Wisconsin, we have Dr. Madeline Magee, Great Lakes and Mississippi River Monitoring Coordinator, BEACH Program Manager, Office of Great Waters --Great Lakes and Mississippi River, Department of Natural Resources, State of Wisconsin.

From Halton, Ontario, regional authority, we have Chitra Gowda. She is Environmental Engineer, Senior Manager, Watershed Planning and Source Protection, Conservation Halton.

From the International Joint Commission, we have Dr. Lucinda Johnson. She is a member of the IJC Science Advisory Board, Associate Director and Water Initiative Director.

And finally, from Environment and Climate Change Canada, we have Ms. Tricia Mitchell. She's the Acting Associate Regional Director General, Ontario Region, for Environment and Climate Change Canada's Strategic Policy Branch.

We will now start the presentation from our panelists. Our first to present is from Minnesota, Katrina Kessler. Katrina.

MS. KATRINA KESSLER: Thank you, Stephen and others. I just want to make sure you can see my slides. Can you hear me and see my screen?

MR. PETRAS: Yes, we can see your slides. They're not in presentation mode, but we can see them.

MS. KESSLER: They aren't in the presentation mode?

MR. PETRAS: No, they're in the, you know, PowerPoint ...

MS. KESSLER: Okay, well, let's try again.

MR. PETRAS: There you go, there you go. Alright.

MS. KESSLER: Now you can see them?


MS. KESSLER: Okay. So, thank you to the Law Institute.

MR. PETRAS: It just went back to the ...

MS. KESSLER: Okay, alright. We'll do it like this. We'll do it like this. Okay. Thank you to the Law Institute, and to Dr. Friedman and Dr. Creed, and I'm just going to get right into it. I'm going to speak from the perspective of the state environmental protection branch within Minnesota, it's called the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and speak to some of the challenges and the opportunities that I see on this topic.

Minnesota, which is shown here--you all know what it looks like--is the headwaters of three internationally important basins. So, we have a unique position in working with neighbors--international neighbors and interstate neighbors--to manage really important resources. To the north, the Red River; to the East, the Great Lakes system; and to the South, the Mississippi River.

And across the state, like other states and provinces that you're going to hear from, we have a really varied land use, geology, geography, and landscape use. So, we have old-growth forests, we have some prairie flats, and we also have a lot of the landscape that is dominated by agriculture. And while we're not seeing the extent of HABs in Lake Superior that you are in some of the other lakes, as noted, they are showing up. It happened twice in the last ten years. And as I think Irena or Kathryn noted, it showed up in the New York Times. In 2018, the New York Times did a story about algae along the Lake Superior shore.

And in both of these instances where they made the national news, it was the result of what I would say were five hundred year plus storm events. So, to the point of the changing climate and the increasing challenge in front of us, to think about how to manage water resources in the face of impact beyond what we've seen in the past, I think we need to really draw on data that looks at not only what we know today, but what we might know will be in front of us in the future.

And that is where I wanted to just start with what I see is one of the biggest challenges. In my role, we look at data from wastewater, and surface waters, and creeks, and lakes across the state. And this really highlights the fact that, even within the states and within local jurisdictions, there's divisions among who is collecting the data, who is regulating the data, who is talking to the partners. And I think we're all often very busy implementing the Clean Water Act, or the Safe Drinking Water Act, or making sure that if we manage local beaches or local recreational opportunities, that we're giving the public the information that they need at the moment. And often, it does not even allow us to take a breath and say, "Oh, what should my friends to the north know about this?" or, "I wonder what my friends to the east understand this to be?"

And in my role, I'm not only working with our state and local partners, but also as part of the Great Lakes Commission. And I think that this is both a challenge and an opportunity, because we have these international or national bodies that exist to, kind of, bring us together, but they don't necessarily have the time or resources that are needed, and they don't necessarily have the hammer that is needed in these situations to drive the work forward. Nor am I saying that we should create more authorities, I'm just saying that the authorities that we have are often not working at the pace and the synergy that they should.

And so, this brings me to the second challenge, which really is data. Because I that think this is how we will fundamentally build the political and grassroots will to move forward. And in Minnesota, as shown here, we have a really systematic approach to monitoring. Every two of ten years, we are intensively looking at the water quality and biology in these eighty watersheds that are at like the HUC [hydrologic unit code] 8 scale, and we are taking all sorts of conventional pollutants, and we're taking flow so that we can understand loads, and we have lots and lots of phosphorus data and chlorophyll-a data.

But when the system was designed, we did not incorporate anatoxin, microcystin, and as a result, we are often behind the curve when these things occur. And we're out there, and we're trying to work with local governments to take samples, but we don't have the predictive tools that I think would be helpful when we all are faced with how to communicate risks, how to engage people on this.

So, I think about looking at, what do we have? I know, in Minnesota, when we've looked at the eutrophication standards that exist, we know that where harmful algal blooms are occurring, those waters are almost always already impaired for eutrophication, for our phosphorus and for our chlorophyll-a standard. So, that is something we can build on, and then kind of evolve into a more predictive approach.

And the other thing I'll say--and this is highlighted in the paper, and they did a really good job, Kathryn and Irena, of pointing this out--we do well when we have regulated frameworks. We have done a great job with wastewater treatment plants. In Minnesota, 99% of the flow is now regulated with really restrictive phosphorus limits. And that's made a huge result in our local resources. And we do not have the fish kills that we had seen twenty-five, thirty years ago.

And we have done a tremendous job in low-flow conditions. But the challenge in front of us is not low-flow. We know that the climate is changing, and as a result our landscape and our smart human counterparts are changing, and they're draining the land faster than they were in the past, so that even when we have decreasing concentrations at wastewater plants, or we're changing practices on the land, we're getting rid of the water faster, so the loads overall are not going down.

And this is highlighted in the paper too, but I think a lot about this from my vantage. We're great at regulating through the Clean Water Act, where we have a water quality standard, and we have to put TMDLs [total maximum daily load] together, and we have to issue permits. But when we have nonpoint sources, and we have to incentivize, and build relationships, and try to get to the economy and the hearts and minds of people to change behavior, we do not do very well.

And I will just highlight that, in Minnesota, as part of all of the Mississippi River basin states, we have a Nutrient Reduction Strategy to get us to our fair share of the Gulf of Mexico hypoxia goals. And again, we're trying as hard as we can. And I can tell you that, towards our goal of 2040, we are supposed to have 55% of the working lands in the state having cover crops, and we're right now at 2%. So, for five years, the best we can do is a 2% increase, and we are supposed to be at 55% by 2040. And so, we just need to accelerate the pace, or change the way that we are coming at this.

And the last thing that I wanted to just talk about, because it's not all rainy day. I mean, I think there are a lot of opportunities, and this is really the nature and the crux of what we're supposed to talk about. I think that things like this, and the news that harmful algal blooms are getting, whether that's in Toledo or elsewhere, have really raised awareness. And maybe not political will at the national level, but I definitely think...

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