Socio-Environmental Influences on Algal Blooms in the Western Lake Erie Basin

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Feb 24, 2016
Ramiro Berardo, Ajay Singh

The decay of Lake Erie’s environmental health and its impacts on local communities, including public health and the environment, was one of the focal events motivating the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972. Despite the considerable improvement in water quality in the 1970s and 1980s because of implementation of agricultural best management practices to address soil erosion, seasonal algal blooms returned to Western Lake Erie. Potential causes of algal blooms may be a mixture of agricultural and urban practices that threaten ecological stability and public health for millions dependent on the lake for drinking water, tourism, and fisheries. For instance, in fall, 2014, national attention turned to the city of Toledo, Ohio as the city’s residents experienced disruption to city services such as access to potable water and certain medical services including child birth and surgery. For this case study we will study the relationship between human behavior and water quality impairments which lead to toxic algal blooms in the Western Lake Erie Basin, and in particular, the Maumee River Watershed. We will also cover prior management and policy efforts of different stakeholders to improve water quality as well as issues surrounding the development of proposed policy and management changes. Multiple stakeholders from multiple states and Canadian provinces are involved in seeking solutions to the ongoing pollution problems. This case study will be ideal to examine how cooperation unfolds in the presence of collective action problems, and the interrelationships between human behavior and environmental outcomes.

Estimated time frame: 
Multiple class periods
SES learning goals: 
  • Understand the structure and behavior of socio-environmental systems
  • Consider the importance of scale and context in addressing socio-environmental problems
  • Co-develop research questions and conceptual models in inter- or trans-disciplinary teams
  • Find, analyze, and synthesize existing data, concepts, or methods
Course and class size: 
Environmental and Natural Resources Policy/ 115 students
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