By Tom Driscoll, government relations representative, National Farmers Union

NASA image acquired August 28, 2010 Late August 2010 provided a rare satellite view of a cloudless summer day over the entire Great Lakes region. North Americans trying to sneak in a Labor Day weekend getaway on the lakes were hoping for more of the same. The Great Lakes comprise the largest collective body of fresh water on the planet, containing roughly 18 percent of Earth's supply. Only the polar ice caps contain more fresh water. The region around the Great Lakes basin is home to more than 10 percent of the population of the United States and 25 percent of the population of Canada. Many of those people have tried to escape record heat this summer by visiting the lakes. What they found, according to The Hamilton Spectator, was record-breaking water temperatures fueled by record-breaking air temperatures in the spring and summer. By mid-August, the waters of Lake Superior were 6 to 8°C (11 to 14°F) above normal. Lake Michigan set records at about 4°C (7°F) above normal. The other three Great Lakes – Huron, Erie, and Ontario -- were above normal temperatures, though no records were set. The image was gathered by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite at 1:30 p.m. Central Daylight Time (18:30 UTC) on August 28. Open water appears blue or nearly black. The pale blue and green swirls near the coasts are likely caused by algae or phytoplankton blooms, or by calcium carbonate (chalk) from the lake floor. The sweltering summer temperatures have produced an unprecedented bloom of toxic blue-green algae in western Lake Erie, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. . References . Environmental Protection Agency. (n.d.) The Great Lakes Atlas. Accessed September 3, 2010. . The Cleveland Plain Dealer. (August 22, 2010) Scientists say the toxic blue-green algae will only get worse on Ohio lakes. Accessed September 3, 2010. . The Hamilton Spectator. (August 13, 2010) Great Lakes turn to 'bath water.' Accessed September 3, 2010. NASA image by Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team, Goddard Space Flight Center. Caption by Mike Carlowicz. Instrument:  Aqua - MODIS Click here to see more images from NASA Goddard’s Earth Observatory NASA Goddard Space Flight Center is home to the nation's largest organization of combined scientists, engineers and technologists that build spacecraft, instruments and new technology to study the Earth, the sun, our solar system, and the universe. Follow us on Twitter Join us on Facebook

The Western Lake Erie Basin (WLEB) is very sensitive to pollution and subject to sediment, phosphorus and nitrogen loading from a variety of sources. A recent study found that producers are taking the lead in cleaning up the Basin, and new efforts announced by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will help farmers in the watershed make even further progress. As much as Ohio, Indiana and Michigan farmers have already pitched in, more work is needed to adequately address harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie.

A new report issued through NRCS’ Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP) measured progress made by producers in the region. Notably, at least one conservation practice has been implemented on 99 percent of cropland acres in the Basin. In 2012, this resulted in 81 percent reductions in sediment loss, 36 percent reductions in nitrogen loss, and 75 percent reduction in phosphorous loss.

NRCSOR02009_-_Oregon_(5867)(NRCS_Photo_Gallery)Farmers have made impressive gains for the WLEB through voluntary conservation practices so far, but more progress is needed. Further conservation gains yet to be made will be harder to achieve since producers have taken care of so many of the readily identifiable conservation opportunities already. To close the gap, NRCS is driving a three year initiative, the Western Lake Erie Basin Initiative, for fiscal years 2016-2018 to expand financial and technical resources in the WLEB. NRCS will invest $41 million of Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) assistance in the area. Combined with the $36 million in NRCS state EQIP resources available in the WLEB, farmers in the Basin will have access to nearly $77 million to fund voluntary conservation endeavors through EQIP over the next three years.

Priority conservation strategies include avoiding excess nutrient application, controlling nutrient and sediment movement, trapping nutrient and sediment loss and managing hydrological pathways to reduce these losses. To learn more, Ohio, Indiana and Michigan farmers should check out the NRCS resources on the Western Lake Erie Basin Initiative and visit their local USDA Service Center.

Are you a farmer in the WLEB? Have you made any changes on your farm to reduce nutrients or sediment in Lake Erie? Why or why not? Please share your thoughts in the comments below and stay tuned here at NFU for more news on conservation opportunities!