Living in Society

Algae Growing on the Lake

Algae cover on Lake Macbride, Sept. 19, 2021.

The algae cover is growing on Lake Macbride. Every so often I take a longer daily walk and pass this spot where the trail is close to the lake. I’m not sure anyone is working on algae as a problem here.

The Lake Macbride Watershed is behind the times. Iowa Department of Natural Resources did not have a value for phosphorous entering the watershed on file, so those of us operating wastewater treatment plants participated in a recent study. I don’t know how they evaluated nitrogen and phosphorous coming from farm fields. I can tell you, our community of about 200 people is not the problem with excess nutrients entering the watershed. Our wastewater effluent is cleaner than the lake when it enters it from an unnamed creek.

Something has changed since we moved near the lake in 1993. Algae wasn’t so dominant then. Partly it is due to population growth in unincorporated areas with private septic systems. Partly it is due to runoff from farm fields. I believe the increasing use of field tile on farm fields contributes significantly.

I posted this photo on Twitter and thanks to Mother Jones writer Tom Philpott’s retweet it received 7,230 impressions and 393 engagements so far. That’s a lot for my posts. People are quick to condemn large-scale agriculture for the pollution.

The issue is inadequate regulation of nitrogen and phosphorus application on farms. Both are required nutrients for plants to grow. Since the move from organic soil to chemical applications in crop growing modern farmers are left no short-term option but to apply them. It makes sense that regulation could help us get cleaner water and less algae cover.

The large agricultural lobby groups don’t want regulation. Farm Bureau, Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association, Iowa Cattlemen’s Association and Iowa Pork Producers Association are steadfast in buying legislators through campaign contributions to prevent needed regulation for cleaner water. That is how our politics operates, at least until legislators or the governor are willing to change it.

Instead of a calming walk through the state park, the algae-choked lake reminded me of the living hellscape of resource extraction that impacts everyone. It began with the removal of Big Grove Township’s namesake forests after settlement, and continues through development of a policy that has farmers planting fence row to fence row. There is more human settlement, but that’s not the problem as wastewater treatment is well regulated by the state. Much as I yearn for more state parks like the one in our township, Iowa has very little acreage set aside for conservation from development.

At least I got some exercise along with agitation from my walk… and this photo of milkweed going to seed.

Common milkweed along the state park trail, Sept. 19, 2021.