6.2
LAKE ERIE ECOSYSTEM CHANGES AND BOTULISM TYPE E OUTBREAK
For the botulism issue, the WQB received three presenta-
6.2.1
Background
tions:
I
n 1999, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Type E Botulism Related to Fish Mortalities Along the
and the National Water Research Institute of Environ
New York Portion of Lake Erie.  Bill Culligan, New York
ment Canada independently reported two disturbing
Department of Environmental Conservation
observations for Lake Erie -- the phosphorus concentration
Avian Botulism.  Grace McLaughlin, U.S. Geological
in the water column was increasing and dissolved oxygen
Survey
depletion was continuing to be observed in the bottom
Fish-Eating Bird Die-Offs -- The Ontario Experience.
waters of the central basin.  The trends continued through
Jeff Robinson, Environment Canada
at least 2001.  The increased availability of the nutrient
phosphorus and the potential for die off of living organisms
as a result of oxygen starvation threatened a return to
6.2.2
Lake Erie Ecosystem Changes — Findings
conditions that prevailed in the late 1960s and early 1970s,
such as the presence of dead and rotting Cladophora and
other plant life on beaches.
The WQB presented the following findings and advice to
the IJC on May 8, 2003.
Other recent observations are the outbreaks of botulism
among fish and birds in Lake Erie and the apparent spread
The observations reported by U.S. EPA and Environment
to lakes Huron and Ontario.  This too resulted in the
Canada in 1999 had also been seen by other scientists.
littering of beaches and shorelines with rotting carcasses
Among other observations for Lake Erie were:
and caught the public’s attention not only with regard to
aesthetics, but also the potential threat to public health.
Increased phosphorus concentrations in the open
Questions were raised as to what would constitute a
waters of the central basin, even though reported
necessary and sufficient program and policy response to
loadings of total phosphorus to the lake have not risen
both issues.
much.
Very low phytoplankton biomass, as measured by
The Water Quality Board (WQB) had tracked both issues
chlorophyll a concentrations.
and, at its meeting in Ottawa, Ontario on October 8, 2002,
Oxygen demand in the central basin has not changed.
decided to seek expert insight into what changes were
Earlier onset and increased persistence of the area of
occurring and why.  Concurrently, the International Joint
the hypolimnion of the central basin susceptible to
Commission (IJC) asked for advice so that it, in turn, could
reduced dissolved oxygen concentrations.
advise governments as to an appropriate course of action in
terms of research, programs and policy.  IJC Canadian
To determine why, a group of concerned and knowledge-
Chairman Herb Gray received a preliminary briefing on the
able scientists formulated a series of questions, and U.S.
Lake Erie ecosystem change issue on November 14, 2002
EPA issued a call for research proposals.  The Lake Erie
and all Commissioners were briefed on both issues on
Millennium Network, which had previously formulated
December 3, 2002.
research plans to evaluate the questions, submitted a
framework for conducting the research.  Also, in addition
The WQB received a more extensive briefing from key
to their research, ongoing since the 1980s, Environment
researchers at its March 6-7, 2003 meeting.  For the Lake
Canada pledged logistical support.  The research was
Erie issue, the WQB received three presentations:
inaugurated in earnest in 2002 and data and findings are
routinely shared as they become available.  The current
Background and Historical Context.  Glenn Warren,
research is being conducted in light of the present under-
U.S. EPA
standing of the issues and is designed to test hypotheses
Lake Erie and the “Dead Zone.”  Murray Charlton,
and to establish or confirm causative linkages.  The findings
National Water Research Institute
from the research, to be completed in late 2003, will be
Lake Erie Trophic Status.  Jan Ciborowski, University
used to inform the program and policy decision-making
of Windsor
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