In November 2016 the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) announced its designation of the Michigan waters of the western Lake Erie basin (WLEB) as “impaired” due to excessive levels of phosphorous. One component of its report to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the designation is based on algal blooms’ impact on aquatic life and other wildlife, a designated use of Michigan’s waters under state water quality standards.
Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB) remains committed to championing the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program’s proactive, voluntary approach to minimizing potential pollution risks, and will oppose efforts that presume farmers as causing pollution of public or private water supplies near agricultural operations or require additional environmental permits regarding agricultural nonpoint source pollution.
In June 2017, a draft Domestic Action Plan (DAP) was released by the state's departments of agriculture, environmental quality, and natural resources. The DAP details a targeted approach aimed at reducing the amount of phosphorus entering Lake Erie to help prevent intense algal blooms in the western part of Lake Erie.
Related story: Voluntary conservation - making a difference in the Western Lake Erie Basin
The final version of Michigan’s DAP will be integrated into the EPA’s comprehensive plan, scheduled for release in February 2018. MFB will continue to participate in conversations on how encouraging more farmers to explore voluntary conservation efforts can lead to a balanced ecosystem in the WLEB.
Michigan has been working to address algae blooms and nutrient loading—and experiencing success—through the 2015 Collaborative Agreement between Michigan, Ohio, and Ontario. While MFB has long been a partner in promoting environmental stewardship and protecting water quality, it does not support the designation.
Farmers have seen evidence of EPA’s regulatory overreach across the country: from its takeover of the TMDL plans of six states plus the District of Columbia in the Chesapeake Bay, to claiming a California farmer’s plowed field created “small mountain ranges” discharging sediment into Waters of the United States. The MDEQ’s action to designate its Lake Erie waters as impaired brings EPA directly into Michigan’s back yard.
MFB statement: WLEB ‘Impairment’ Designation
Michigan Farm News: DEQ action called ‘completely unnecessary’
MDEQ press release: WLEB impairment reported by MDEQ
MFB Policy #73, Environmental Protection and Authority
MFB Policy #81, Nonpoint Source Pollution and Watershed Management
Michigan is already accessing federal funds and encouraging nonpoint source reductions through proactive, voluntary efforts such as the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP) and Farm Bill program implementation.
Farmers are encouraged to work toward full MAEAP verification if they aren’t already. Michigan law states that farms meeting MAEAP standards for all systems applicable to their farms have the presumption of meeting the obligations and practices for watershed pollutant loading determinations, or Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). This means if you are MAEAP verified in all the systems that apply to your farm, you will not have to take any additional actions to meet Load Allocation limits if Lake Erie is put under a TMDL.
From 2013 through 2015, MAEAP has confirmed the implementation of conservation Best Management Practices (BMPS – see the chart below) on nearly 99,000 acres of cropland, or about 10 percent of the cropland, in the Michigan portion of the WLEB. This work is accomplished through farmers voluntarily participating in the MAEAP process.