The dead zone in Lake Erie was shrinking until the trend reversed in the mid-1990s, along with a resurgence of harmful algal blooms in 2011 that could be seen from space. In 2012, numbers of algae began to decrease as phosphorus levels also decreased.

One of the greatest sources of algal blooms seems to be nonpoint source pollution from agriculture in Lake Erie’s western basin. Climate change has brought more-frequent, high-intensity storms and, therefore, more runoff. Another climate change factor affecting algae is warmer water temperatures.

The algae’s reappearance has given the International Joint Commission (IJC) — which includes researchers from the U.S. and Canada — an opportunity to study the economic and social issues related to causes and control of the algal blooms. A draft IJC report on the overall health of the Lake Erie ecosystem is scheduled for public comment in September, with a final report due in October. Read more.

IJC also will collaborate on the Great Lakes Restoration Conference in September in Detroit, a city that will be focusing on a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on green infrastructure. A third of the money will be used to map land cover and determine where green infrastructure facilities should be sited. Because Detroit’s population has declined during the last decade, vacant property is available for stormwater management. The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments and the Detroit Water and Sewer Department are using this opportunity to renew many of these properties.

Ingham county, for example, is renovating the 50-year-old Frandor shopping center. According to the county’s drain commissioner, and as reported by Bloomberg BNA, two hotels plan to invest about $450,000 in the project, creating between 2000 and 3000 permanent jobs.

Green infrastructure has many benefits, but how effective will it be at reducing nutrient pollution and algal blooms in Lake Erie? Part of IJC’s study will answer this question, focusing on both total phosphorus and dissolved reactive phosphorus, which is primarily responsible for the algal blooms.