Agricultural Pollution & The Great Lakes

Runoff pollution from farm fields harms the Great Lakes and threatens drinking water.

Runoff from agricultural lands pollutes the streams and rivers that flow into the Great Lakes.

When it rains, excess fertilizer and manure from farm fields flow into waterways. This runoff contains high levels of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous. These nutrients are vital for growing plants. But too much in our waterways can have disastrous results including harmful algal blooms and dead zones. This runoff:

  • pollutes drinking water,
  • threatens wildlife,
  • harms the regional economy, and
  • prevents people from enjoying recreation like boating, swimming, and fishing on the Great Lakes.

Nutrient pollution from farm fields fuels a bumper crop of algae, causing harmful algal blooms. These blooms can make water toxic to fish, wildlife, and people. Dead zones occur when algae die and decompose, using up the oxygen in the water. Too little oxygen in the water can harm fish and other life living under the water’s surface. Large areas without enough oxygen are called “dead zones” because fish and other aquatic creatures can’t live there.

Stopping Agricultural Pollution at the Source 

Algae blooms and dead zones are preventable. Farms are the main source of nutrient pollution flowing in the lakes. Scientists report that reducing the amount of farm runoff pollution will significantly reduce algae blooms and dead zones.

The Alliance is helping shape solutions to this pollution. Unfortunately, few rules are in place to limit runoff pollution from agricultural lands. The Alliance advocates for mandatory regulations to reduce the amount of nutrient pollution allowed to flow into the Great Lakes. New rules will reduce algal blooms, restore the lakes, and ensure safe, clean drinking water for our families.

All too often, downstream communities bear the burden of this upstream pollution. We partner with community groups, researchers, and government agencies to develop cost-effective and equitable solutions to prevent runoff pollution.