Nutrients and Algal Blooms

The Cities Initiative is working to develop Nutrient Action Collaboratives in the United States and Canada to encourage collaboration among municipalities, agriculture, industry and other stakeholders. The goal of these collaboratives is to get all sectors taking action to identify best practices to reduce nutrient loadings entering our waterways, share information on those best practices, and measure progress over time.


In August 2014, Toledo, OH residents were advised not to drink the water for two days when microcystin, a neurotoxin found in harmful algal blooms, was detected in the city's source of drinking water. The late Mayor D. Michael Collins of Toledo was faced with a great deal of uncertainty around the potential health implications from microcystin, and testing procedures and protocols.

In the wake of this drinking water crisis, Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago and the Cities Initiative called together the Mayors’ Drinking Water Summit in September 2014. Mayor Collins spoke of the Toledo experience, and we heard from a number of other experts on the issue of HABs. As an outcome of this summit, the Cities Initiative committed to working collaboratively to explore the issue of nutrient loadings in the lakes and undertake concrete actions to reduce nutrients running off into the lakes and their tributaries.

Lake Erie Bloom July 28th 2015

July 28th, 2015 – Western Lake Erie Basin Algal Bloom (credit: NASA)

Recent Cities Initiative Action

The Cities Initiative and the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) entered into a Memorandum of Cooperation in December 2015 to develop and implement a phosphorus loss reduction strategy for farmland drainage in the Thames River basin. By improving drainage to retain or remove more phosphorus before it discharges into waterways, this strategy will contribute to the binational and provincial 40% phosphorus reduction target under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and the Western Lake Erie Collaborative Agreement.

Since then, OFA and the Cities Initiative, in collaboration with agricultural and agribusiness representatives, First Nations, drainage professionals, municipalities, conservation authorities, and NGOs, have developed a strategy to reduce phosphorus loss from farmland in the Thames River Basin. This strategy was adopted by the boards of the Cities Initiative and the OFA in June 2016.

In December 2016, the join strategy successfully received $203,000 in funding from Growing Forward 2, a Canada-Ontario agricultural funding program administered through the Agricultural Adaptation Council. These funds will be matched with $100,000 from participating organizations. For more information, click here.

Most recently in June 2017, the Thames River Phosphorus Reduction Collaborative was official launched in Chatham-Kent, Ontario. OFA and the Cities Initiative will work over the next year to gather information about best practices and reach out to farmers and municipalities in the Upper and Lower Thames basins. Implementation of the strategy is expected in the Fall of 2017.

A summary of the farmland drainage strategy can be found by clicking here.

An article on the strategy that appeared in Drainage Contractor Magazine can be viewed here.

Press Releases and Letters

June 27, 2017: Thames River Phosphorus Reduction Collaborative Launch

December 2016: Drainage Strategy Funding Press Release

June 16th, 2016: Annual Meeting Press Release

June 17th, 2015: Annual Meeting Press Release

June 10th, 2015: Concerning upcoming nutrient advisories and the Council of Great Lakes Governors' Leadership Summit

September 24th, 2014: See the Press Release below regarding the Mayors' Drinking Water Summit

Resources and Agreements