Input to Policy and Management

Synthesis Paper and Synthesis Presentation

Individual Presentations to Policy Makers and Managers

Ecofore provided key input to the International Joint Commission’s Lake Erie Ecosystem Priority report.  Watch the LEEP video here.

Management outcomes I: Management application or adoption of project results.

The vast majority of the research output from this project is being used by the International Joint Commission in their advice to the US and Canadian governments regarding additional nutrient management control for Lake Erie.  Most of the hypoxia-related findings and recommendations in their report, “Lake Erie Ecosystem Priority:  Scientific Findings and Policy Recommendations to Reduce Nutrient Loadings and Harmful Algal Blooms” were based on, and often drafted by, Ecofore investigators.  The recommendations are incorporated in the synthesis paper provided above, and the key implications are repeated here:

 Implications for Policy and Management Action

If an appropriate social/political process establishes “acceptable levels” (or goals) for hypoxia, the previously described response curves could be used to establish P loading targets.  Given the emergence of DRP as a significant and increasing component of the total phosphorus load, we recommend considering both TP and DRP targets.  In addition, because the results of management actions aimed at addressing non-point sources tend to occur on the scale of years to decades, potential impacts of a changing climate need to be taken into consideration.  Most indications suggest that climate change will not only exacerbate existing problems, but also make reducing loads more difficult.

Whole-lake targets alone may no longer be appropriate due to differences in temporal and spatial scales of loading affecting hypoxia and other environmental stressors. For example, CB hypoxia evolves over a longer time frame in response to loads distributed over wider spatial and temporal scales than WB cyanobacteria blooms, which appear to be driven by relatively short-term loads of immediately available P from agriculture dominated watersheds. Thus, while a recent assessment demonstrated the Detroit River had little impact on the massive 2011 cyanobacteria bloom, it does not mean that the river is not an important driver for hypoxia; hypoxia development is a cumulative process that can be influenced by longer term loads of both immediately available DRP and P that is made available through internal recycling mechanisms over the summer.  Thus, a new loading target aimed at reducing or eliminating cyanobacteria blooms might be insufficient in both magnitude and geographic proximity to reduce hypoxia.  Even if whole-lake targets were appropriate, because the major components of the P load are now from non-point sources, and because resources available to address those sources will always be limited, management efforts need to be placed on sub-watersheds that deliver the most P.  We now have the ability to identify not only the most important contributing watersheds (e.g., Detroit, Maumee, Sandusky), but also the regions within those tributary watersheds that release the most P.  This knowledge should allow for more effective targeting of BMPs to high-load subwatersheds, assuming that the stakeholders (e.g., policy-makers, land developers, farmers) in those regions are open to adopting the newly proposed policies. For this reason, research that identifies factors that drive land-use decision-making behavior, and how these motivations and behaviors vary across the watershed, will be essential to helping policy-makers determine their ability to meet any newly developed loading targets through implementation of spatially-targeted BMPs.

For example, current farm policy is based on volunteer, incentive-based adoption of BMPs, and deliberations over the U.S. Farm Bill, including focus on special areas and replacing subsidies with revenue insurance, provide opportunities to employ more targeted approaches.  However, farmer adoption of those practices will be paramount, and a recent analysis suggests revenue insurance uncoupled from conservation practices may have unintended consequences. Using a social-ecological-system modeling framework that synthesizes social, economic, and ecological aspects of landscape change under different agricultural policy scenarios, Daloğlu (2013) and Daloğlu et al. (in review) evaluated how different policies, land management preferences, and land ownership affect landscape pattern and subsequently downstream water quality. This framework linked an agent-based model of farmers’ conservation practice adoption decisions with SWAT to simulate the influence of changing land tenure dynamics and the crop revenue insurance in lieu of commodity payments on water quality over 41 years (1970-2010) for the predominantly agricultural Sandusky River watershed.  The results showed that non-operator owner involvement in land management decisions yielded the highest reduction in sediment and nutrient loads and that crop revenue insurance tended to create a homogeneous conservation landscape with slight increases in sediment and nutrient loads. However, it also suggested that linking crop insurance to conservation compliance and strengthening and expanding conservation compliance provisions could reduce nutrient loads.

Experiences in other large regions with nutrient problems (e.g., Chesapeake Bay, Gulf of Mexico/Mississippi River) have shown that significantly reducing non-point source loads is difficult.  Not only are the sources spatially distributed, but the methods used are primarily voluntary and incentive based, and thus difficult to target and track.  Reducing non-point inputs of sediments and nutrients is also difficult because the response time between action and result can be many years or longer, and the results can only be measured cumulatively in space and through time.  For these reasons, we recommend use of an adaptive management approach that sets “directionally correct” interim targets, evaluates the results both in loads and lake response on appropriate time-scales (e.g., 3-year running averages), and then adjusting management actions or loading targets, if necessary.  Such an approach also would allow for more effective testing and post-audits of the ability of models to project the ecosystem’s response and thus improve subsequent assessments and projections.  We see this iteration of research and analysis, management-focused model development and application, management action, and monitoring of results as a particularly effective way to manage large, spatially complex ecosystems.  If the monitored results are not as anticipated, returning to research and model refinement establishes a learning cycle that can lead to better informed decisions and improved outcomes.

 Management outcomes II: Societal condition improved.

While it is premature to assess this, we are confident that the impact of our work will be quite influential in setting the new GLWQA phosphorus loading targets.  This is because our work became a key piece of the IJC LEEP Report  and the technical reports supporting it (http://ijc.org/en_/leep/Technical_Documents).

Many of the EcoFore investigators are playing significant roles in the GLWQA Task Force Annex on setting lake quality objectives (e.g., HABs and Hypoxia) and phosphorus loading targets to achieve them (http://www.ijc.org/en_/GLWQA_Annexes).

Of course, once the targets are set (some time in 2014), it will take many years to observe changes in the environmental endpoint measures (e.g., loads and hypoxia).