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Protecting our Great Lakes

August 26, 2013  By Dave Harrison

Ontario’s two major greenhouse regions – Niagara and Leamington/Kingsville

Ontario’s two major greenhouse regions – Niagara and Leamington/Kingsville – are situated alongside two of the Great Lakes (Erie and Ontario). Growers work hard to avoid any industry impact on these bodies of water.

Dr. Saad Jasim is no stranger to Canadian greenhouses.



“Keeping Our Great Lakes Safe” is the focus of this year’s keynote address (Thursday, Oct. 10) at the Canadian Greenhouse Conference. Dr. Saad Jasim, one of North America’s leading authorities on the subject, will be at the podium.

The keynote presentation is sponsored by Food Waste Inc.

Toxic and nuisance algal blooms are re-emerging as a significant threat to Lake Erie and near-shore areas of Lakes Huron, Ontario and Michigan. Many of the algae varieties threaten human and wildlife health and lead to degraded aquatic habit. Excessive algae also results in economic impacts by clogging water intakes, increasing water treatment costs, and disrupting fisheries, tourism and recreation.

The algae problem is complex, says Jasim, and the causes of the resurgence in algae growth are not fully understood.

We posed several questions as a preview to his keynote presentation.

How long have you worked on water management/treatment issues, and what prompted that interest?

■ I have worked for more than 20 years in water management, treatment and research. Water is a key component in human life. Civilizations started and developed around water sources.

Have you had much experience with greenhouse water management/treatment issues?

■ I have worked with the greenhouse industry since the early 2000s.

What role can greenhouse growers play in minimizing their impact on water quality in their regions?

■ The reduction of discharged water from the processes, which is nutrient rich, would reduce the potential of algal bloom. The use of Best Management Practices and advanced technologies would be a key factor to minimize such impacts on Great Lakes water quality.

What is the current state of water quality of the Great Lakes? Are things getting better, worse, or staying about the same?

■ In 2011, Lake Erie saw some of the largest algal blooms in recent history. The excess algae, due in part to phosphorus inputs to the lake, has been getting steadily worse in the last decade. It is so bad, in fact, that you can see the green stuff from space.

Phosphorus is a nutrient found in everything from fertilizers to sewage. In excess amounts, it can cause aquatic plants like algae to flourish, and close beaches to the public due to bacteria in the algae.

What consequences could result if water management practices don’t change with respect to water quality in the Great Lakes?

■ Threats to the Great Lakes environment are numerous and increasingly diverse, including climate change, the widespread toxic contamination of surface and groundwater (chemicals of emerging concern, such as pharmaceuticals and endocrine disrupting compounds), habitat degradation, and invasions by alien species.

One of the driving forces behind these environmental changes is the advancing urbanization of the Great Lakes Basin.

Today, approximately 40 million people live in the basin, two-thirds of whom are settled in urban areas with populations larger 250,000. Although the urbanized areas of the basin occupy only three to four per cent of the total land surface, how and where these communities grow has enormous implications for the health of the basin and its residents.

In some Great Lakes cities, it is predicted that urban population may grow by 20 per cent or more over the next decade, with most growth occurring at the urban fringe. This means that the population of low-density suburban and rural areas around the Great Lakes is increasing, while the population in many higher density urban cores is shrinking.

The urban footprint is spreading and infrastructure to support it is weaving its way further out from city centres into what was formerly countryside.

What will be the focus of your presentation to the Canadian Greenhouse Conference?

■ The focus will be on addressing the challenges facing the Great Lakes, specifically regarding the algal bloom in Lake Erie and how Best Management Practices could play an important role in reducing impacts on the Great Lakes.

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