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UT researchers reducing fertilizer runoff in Lake Erie to help fight harmful algal blooms

Wetlands restored by researchers at The University of Toledo are showing promise as a weapon against phosphorus discharge from the Maumee River into Lake Erie.

Phosphorus, specifically from fertilizer runoff in the spring and summer, is linked to the size of the annual harmful algal bloom.

Researchers at UT are studying a cost-effective way to reduce the amount of phosphorus that reaches Lake Erie by using strategically located restored wetlands on public land in the watershed to soak up the phosphorus, said Dr. Kevin Egan, associate professor in the Department of Economics.

A 10-acre treatment wetland at Maumee Bay State Park and a sedimentation basin upstream of the wetland were built in 2014 and 2015 to test the use of wetlands to soak up phosphorus.

Results of the model system showed reductions of 50 percent to 75 percent of dissolved reactive phosphorus in the water prior to reaching Lake Erie.

“Our results are encouraging. We observed reductions in sediment, Escherichia coli, total phosphorus and total dissolved phosphorus for both the sedimentation basin and the treatment wetland,” said Ryan Jackwood, PhD student working on the environmental remediation and restoration project. “These projects serve as a proof of concept to show that these types of treatment systems work and that we can implement similar projects in the Maumee River to achieve water quality improvement.”

Quinton Babcock, an undergraduate researcher in the UT Department of Economics, is conducting a survey on what the public thinks of the proposed plan to use natural ecosystems to end the algal blooms through phosphorus reduction. Respondents have a chance to win prizes up to $150.

Take the survey here.