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Updated 10:00 AM September 21, 2009

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Scavia advises Congress on action plan for algal blooms, hypoxia

U-M sustainability expert Don Scavia joined colleagues from federal agencies, state governments and universities Thursday to advise Congress on how to address the depletion of oxygen from the Great Lakes, the Gulf of Mexico and other major U.S. bodies of water.
Scavia speaks on oxygen depletion in the Great Lakes and other waters. (Photo by Mike Waring, U-M Washington, D.C. Office)

The hearing before the House Science and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment was to gather insight and advice as the subcommittee drafts legislation to address harmful algal blooms and hypoxia, which result in poor water quality and harm fish and other aquatic populations.

Scavia is the Graham Family Professor of Environmental Sustainability and director of the Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute. This is the third time he has testified to Congress on the issue of how to combat these environmental problems, track progress, ensure adequate research and monitor and improve conservation and water quality.

"Hypoxia — regions of lakes and oceans, with seriously depleted oxygen — has become an issue of global importance," he said. In the Great Lakes region alone, Lake Erie's dead zone, once thought to be shrinking, has grown again to threatening levels not seen in years. A key factor is the phosphorus lost from nearby fields.

Scavia made several suggestions to improve current policy. Among them were:

• Establish a partnership between the National Oceanic and Atmospherics Administration (NOAA) and Environmental Protection Agency in the Great Lakes to take advantage of the significant investments made by NOAA in both harmful algal bloom and hypoxia research.

• Shorten the time frame to complete action plan reports for the Gulf of Mexico from two years to one year. These reports also should include details on specific management actions as well as updates on the environmental conditions in the region.

• Allocate NOAA research funds through an extramural competitive, peer review process.

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