algae, bloom, microplant, dissolved oxygen, suburban safari, freedom lawn, patriotic, lake erie, runoff, agricultural, Freedom Lawns are not a novelty where I come from: They result anywhere that people forgo the fertilizing and herbiciding and pesticiding of the mowed area around their house. They’re low-fuss, resilient, and cheap — like Mainers.

This particularly scary analysis of Lake Erie’s recent algae catastrophe suggests: As Maine goes, so (we had better hope) goes the Nation.

Some observations:

Algae generally love warm temperatures. It lets their chemistry proceed at a faster rate.

Climate change is causing warmer temperatures.

Algae love fertilizer. Phosphates are the meat-and-potatoes of the algae world.

When you dump fertilizer on your lawn, some of it always goes downhill with the next rain.

Climate change may cause rain to fall more often in some areas.

You can see where this is going: Downhill.

Down in Lake Erie in 2011, plentiful phosphate washed into the water. Moreover, the weather was particularly warm and calm. The phosphates drifted lazily at the surface, instead of mixing and dispersing throughout the water column. Algae like the surface of water: It gets more sunlight.


In the resulting bloom, the crop of micro-plants in 2011 hit three times any previous record. It’s not the kind of record one hopes to break. When algae die, their decomposition pulls dissolved oxygen out of the water, causing many other forms of lake life to suffocate.

If you have never had the pleasure of viewing a Freedom Lawn, you may see one at the Nation’s Capital. Both the Mall and the White House lawn have been set free of chemicals. The resulting diversity of their plants, as I noted in the book SUBURBAN SAFARI, makes a lawn into a gorgeous medieval tapestry. I find this much more interesting than the “1970’s shag carpet” lawns standard to neighborhoods outside of Maine.

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