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Research highlights environmental threats to Lake Ontario

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New research about environmental stressors of the Great Lakes has pinpointed areas of concern for waters in the north country.

The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Michigan, indicates that northern Lake Ontario faces issues from invasive species, fishery operations, runoff from land and in some areas toxic chemicals in the water.

A map of local waters showed the area as highly stressed.

However, J. David Allan, a professor and one of the lead researchers of the study, said the mapping showed stress levels relative to other areas on the lakes, and by itself was not a measure of the lake’s environmental state.

“It’s one of those glass is half full, glass is half empty type of framings you have to make,” he said.

The study, “Joint Analysis of Stressors and Ecosystem Services to Enhance Restoration Effectiveness,” was completed as researchers analyzed the lake’s health on dozens of different factors, which then were filed into seven categories such as aquatic health, invasive species and toxic chemicals. Locally, some areas of concern include:

n Much of the lake faces a mid- to high-level risk for invasive species such as round goby, sea lamprey and zebra and quagga mussels. Round goby and lamprey have created issues by displacing and killing local fish, while the mussels have affected food chains and created issues for potable water pipes. There is some debate on how the species were brought in, focusing on tributaries and ballast waters used by ships for stability.

n Nitrogen and sediment loading in the lake’s water is cited as a problem, promoting algae growth and creating murky waters that negatively affect visual predators.

n Sediment mercury and PCBs are listed as mid- to high-level stress risks, which are linked with concerns about fish contamination and drinking water safety.

n Small pockets of water are listed as being at risk of stress from water level and temperature changes.

Maps created by the Great Lakes Environmental Assessment and Mapping Project as a part of the research can be found at www.greatlakesmapping.org/great_lake_stressors.

The research was highlighted in December by the National Wildlife Federation, which claimed the study validates the $1 billion spent on federal Great Lakes restoration programs.

Within the last four months, research for restoration projects on Lake Ontario within New York has received about $2 million in funding from a variety of state and national organizations.

A full list of funding for restoration projects in New York can be found at www.greatlakesrestoration.us/projects.html.

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