Does this sound familiar? You head down to the lake with your family, or plan a kayaking trip on the river. When you get to the water though it’s covered in a blanket of slime. No, it’s not the Blob – it’s blue-green algae.
Unfortunately, you’ve probably already seen it somewhere in Indiana. Blue-green algae blooms are a growing problem for Indiana residents.
Now, not every type of algae is bad algae. Some forms are actually good for the ecosystem, such as diatoms. These are a type of algae that eat excess nutrients and sink to the bottom where they are easily digested by fish and invertebrates. (More info on the good stuff)
But, the blue-green kind is bad. Blue-green algae can’t be eaten by fish and invertebrates because they produce cyanotoxins which, if ingested, cause liver problems, neurological problems or even death for smaller animals. What’s more, blue-green algae can store phosphorus and nitrogen, so it out-competes the good forms of algae and muscles it out of the ecosystem. (More info on the bad stuff)
So what causes blue-green algae? Well, there are a lot of different environmental conditions that lead to algal blooms, but there is one constant element that causes them all…excessive nutrients. Obviously some nutrients are necessary for aquatic life but an overabundance of nutrients will almost always cause excessive algal blooms.
Well, what can be done? There are a lot of ways to stop excess nutrients from reaching our waterways. Just by taking a couple of simple steps, we can reduce the nutrients in our water to safe levels and prevent these blue-green algal blooms.
First, use phosphorus-free lawn fertilizers. When Ann Arbor, Michigan took action and banned phosphorus lawn fertilizers they managed to reduce downstream phosphorus in the Huron River by an impressive 17%.
Second, keep lawn clippings away from water bodies and out of the gutters. Some of these gutters drain directly to rivers, so keeping grass clippings out of the gutters is crucial. Instead, try composting the clippings or store them in a metal bin until they can be safely removed.
Third, use native plants. Exotic plants and flowers often need more or less water and nutrients than native plants, which can give rise to nutrient imbalances in our soil. Native plants utilize the nutrients and water more efficiently, and prevent lawn runoff. Plus, they just look right here in Indiana!
Fourth, mix up your landscape. Most people plant flowers and shrubs near the house, with a solid blanket of grass leading down to the curb. Instead, plant a rain garden near the curb. This garden will catch excess water – and nutrients it may be carrying – before it hits the gutters.
Remember that what goes on the ground ends up in the water and you’ll either be drinking in it or playing it!