The Great Lakes Protection Fund, The Nature Conservancy
Michigan State University
Altered hydrology as well as sediment and nutrient impairments are leading to costly ecologic, economic, and human health issues. Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs, Microcystis sp.) of unprecedented size and severity have occurred in the Western Basin of Lake Erie in recent years. The blooms are primarily fueled by agricultural runoff from the Maumee watershed, which is approximately 80% agricultural land. Similar coastal eutrophication problems are present in other predominantly agricultural Great Lakes watersheds.
The team is evaluating the potential to target and incentivize ecologically beneficial conservation practices in agricultural watersheds. The approach is to explore methods for identifying and then implementing agricultural conservation practices that will lead to the greatest and most cost-effective reductions in ecological impacts without placing undue risks on farm productivity. Watershed and lake modeling tools are used to quantify the ecological benefits of agricultural conservation practices, and to explore the concept of reward-for-performance frameworks (like reverse auctions and supplier certification programs) to improve watershed and coastal ecosystem function.
The resulting science-based framework provides information and tools for a number of issues, including managing agricultural landscapes, generating optimal ecosystem improvement returns, and understanding return on investments. Used properly, this framework can inform producers, agricultural agencies, agribusinesses, and governing bodies concerning necessary actions to meet aquatic ecosystem improvement goals. By extension, the framework can inform agricultural policies, and promote and support transaction-based and/or certification-based programs that provide compensation to encourage ecological health in the Great Lakes and its tributary watersheds.