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What’s That in the Water?

Posted: 11:06AM July 6th, 2017 | Comments

Having lived in New York my entire life, my summers have involved lots of sandy beaches and splashing in ocean waves. My Wisconsinite friends, on the other hand,  tell me stories of summers spent in cabins up north, jet skiing in lakes. So, while I knew I was going to miss my usual beach-filled summer, I was excited to see what the lakes had to offer.


Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to spend much time in lakes this summer. Instead of the blue lakes I was expecting, they are murky green and coated in a thick, slimy layer of algae. The issue with the algae extends deeper than interfering with my summer fun though. The high amounts of algae are harming aquatic life, putting human health at risk, and impacting food prices and food security. This is an issue that requires immediate action, so here are four things you can do to reduce the amount of algae in the lakes.


1.       Keep fallen leaves and grass clippings on your lawn


Phosphorus is the main cause of algal blooms, and because plants naturally contain phosphorus, it is important to keep leaves and grass from entering the lakes. When fallen leaves are raked into the streets, they enter storm drains and wind up in waterways where they break down releasing their phosphorus and triggering algal blooms. Instead of pushing leaves into the street, leave them on your lawn for a free and natural grass fertilizer.  


2.       Cut down on fertilizer use


Fertilizers not only promote lawn growth, but algae growth as well. Fertilizers reach the lake the same way the phosphorus from the leaves do- through the sewer system. When it rains, the water carries fertilizer from lawns into the storm drains, and ultimately into lakes. As noted above, by leaving fallen leaves on your lawn, you can naturally fertilize your grass while contributing to the reduction of algal blooms.


3.       Use phosphate-free cleaning products


The number one culprit of algal blooms is not just found in plants. Many household products, including laundry detergent and dishwasher soap, contain phosphorus as well. When you use these products they enter they enter water bodies through sewer systems contributing to algal blooms. There are many brands that offer high quality, phosphorus-free alternatives.


4.       Education


Many people are simply unaware of the direct impact that they have on the lakes and how simple it is to contribute to positive change. The more educated people are, the more progress will be made. For more information, check out the Clean Lakes Alliance, the Aldo Leopold Nature Center, or the Madison Metropolitan Sewage District. To dive even deeper into the issues surrounding the Madison area waterways, apply to the Yahara Watershed Academy.


While there is always more to be done, these four simple steps are a great and easy place to start.


By Jordan Campo, Social Media and Communications Intern


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