Harmful Algal Blooms in the Great Lakes Basin: A Binational Sub-Federal Approach?

Date01 January 2021
AuthorCreed, Irena F.

Speakers: Dr. Kathryn Bryk Friedman & Dr. Irena F. Creed

DR. KATHRYN BRYK FRIEDMAN: Okay. Well good morning, everyone. Thank you, Governor Blanchard, I think Minister Peterson is on the webinar, Steve and Chi, thank you so much for hosting this symposium so that Irena and I could present an idea that we've been working on for quite some time now.

As Chi suggested, Irena and I have been collaborating on Great Lakes issues for well over a decade, and we've specifically been focusing on harmful algal blooms, probably within the last six years or so. Irena, of course, bringing the science perspective to the table, and I bring the law, and governance, and policy perspective to the table. We copublished an article last year, which really was the impetus behind our recent paper that the panelists have had a chance to look at, and this symposium.

It struck both of us that, you know, as everybody I'm sure on this call is aware, the governance system is not working. It's not working. Harmful algal blooms continue in the Great Lakes system and, in some cases, are exacerbated. They're becoming even more excessive. So, it struck us that the federal system, as great as it is, is maybe not working.

More importantly, as Governor Blanchard noted, maybe something can be done at the state-provincial level. As the governor mentioned, there is a long, long history of state-provincial engagement between Canada and the United States across a whole host of areas.

So, we did a little bit of research and realized that no one really explored this idea in detail. So, we put our heads together and came up with a paper, and Irena and I will summarize our approach in this presentation, and then turn it over to the regulators, and the NGO panel, and the academics in the room to provide their perspectives and comment, and then we'll open it up. So, with that, I'll start the presentation.

Okay. So, I just gave you a little bit of history as to how we came to this issue. And really, the questions that are driving our paper and this symposium presentation are the following: Is a state-provincial framework necessary? Given the complexity of the problem and the reemergence of the problem.

A very, very important question from my perspective is, is it possible? Something else that I should note, neither Irena nor I are interested in navel-gazing. We both are very, very interested in coming up with ideas that have the potential to gain some traction on the ground. And as you'll see by the end of our presentation, there are some very real challenges to putting a state-provincial framework in place, and we'll get to those at the end.

And the third question is, if the state-provincial framework is necessary, and if it's possible, what would that look like? We have a number of different examples that we could turn to as ideas for a framework, but that is something else that we will touch on later on in the presentation.

So, Irena, take it from here.

DR. IRENA F. CREED: Thanks, Kate, and good morning, everybody. Really pleased to be here. This map is basically showing that harmful algal blooms occur in all five of the Great Lakes. Most of our attention has focused on Lake Erie. But recently, we're seeing harmful algal blooms occurring, even as far north as Lake Superior.

We know that there is a rich diversity of algal species in a harmful algal bloom event, including both native species and invasive ones. And we also know that cyanobacteria are often the dominant in these harmful algal bloom events.

I wanted to show this map, with the yellow dots being those that we know there are algal blooms and the green ones where we know them to be toxic. Remarkably, as I prepared for the paper, I found it very difficult to get data on just where these blooms were occurring. Most of them--especially in the northern Great Lakes--were derived from newspaper articles, and this really spoke to me about the need for greater coordination between our two countries in terms of being able to monitor where these blooms, and where toxic blooms occur. For, if we cannot monitor them and map them, it poses a great challenge for managing them.

On the next slide ... Kate, can you move the slide forward?

DR. FRIEDMAN: Yep. Hang on. There we go.

DR. CREED: Thank you, Kate. Most of our understanding of harmful algal blooms has occurred due to Lake Erie, and the rich history there of blooms. Lake Erie is a focal point because it's the smallest and shallowest of the Great Lakes, and therefore more vulnerable to these harmful algal bloom events. In the 1970s, it was declared in Maclean's magazine that Lake Erie had died due to these rich algal blooms. And, subsequently, a great deal of effort has focused on dealing, or reducing the risk of these algal blooms by focusing on phosphorus.

Phosphorus control has led to a reduction of these algal bloom events, and shortly after, it was considered one of the greatest success stories of bringing back to life Lake Erie.

However, things have changed. And in the 1990s, these harmful algal bloom events have reemerged in Lake Erie, and now they're expanding to and intensifying in the other Great Lakes. Next slide, Kate.

Why is this happening? I decided, in the paper, to focus on where most of our management...

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