water quality

On this episode of Field Day with Jordan Hoewischer, Dr. Laura Johnson, director of the National Center for Water Quality Research at Heidelberg University, discusses the latest on water monitoring and the effect farming practices have on downstream nutrient loading, including the Lake Erie algal bloom.

According to the final assessment from the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration, the bloom was much less severe than in 2019, which had a severity of 7.3. This forecast uses an ensemble of different models, which consider phosphorus loading into the lake during the spring and early summer.

Despite a 2020 forecast of 4.5 severity, the harmful algal bloom on Lake Erie clocked in at a relatively mild 3 on the severity index.

“One of the models correctly forecast the severity; other models over-estimated the severity by different amounts,” NOAA said in the final report of the year. “(We) will be examining these differences in comparison with forecasts for previous years to evaluate the models.”

Helpful takeaways

This marks the lowest actual bloom since 2012 and even though this summer’s bloom forecast was overshot, mainly due to a lack of rainfall, there were some helpful takeaways for researchers. For instance, Johnson found that when comparing this year with 2019, when too much rain meant very little nutrients were applied to farm fields in northwest Ohio, one metric stood out.

“2020 was an interesting year because we didn’t have a huge dissolved phosphorus load but the load is where we would have expected it to be based off of how much flow we had,” Johnson said on Ohio Farm Bureau’s Field Day with Jordan Hoewischer podcast. “The dissolved phosphorus number bounced right back this year (compared to 2019) which sort of helps this idea that within one year we can have a big reduction of phosphorus application and then if we apply phosphorus normally the next, the dissolved phosphorus goes back to previous levels.”

Even as the bloom didn’t develop as projected, programs to assist farmers with best management practices for water quality and soil health have continued. H2Ohio, which has already signed up over 1 million acres of farmland in the Maumee River Watershed, just received a second year of funding to help farmers establish nutrient management plans to better understand the needs of their farms from a nutrient standpoint.

Field Day with Jordan Hoewischer is an ongoing series of conversations with experts and leaders who are helping to shape and secure the future of Ohio’s ag industry for generations to come.

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