Control Pollution from Diffuse Sources


Reduce loads of phosphorus, nitrogen, and sediment entering the Lakes by building a series of strategies that can be delivered by drain managers, commercial, and/or not-for-profit third parties that reduce nutrient loss, improve soil health, improve the retention of water, and over time, reduce the occurrence of harmful algae blooms.


Excess nutrients, particularly dissolved reactive phosphorus, are leading to outbreaks of algae in the basin’s rivers, bays, and Lakes. Even Lake Superior, which has not been vulnerable to the algae problems more common in the lower Lakes, is experiencing algae blooms. Algae blooms rob waters of oxygen (when they die and decay), can limit the use of beaches (when mats of algae cover them), and can release potent toxic compounds that can harm humans, wildlife and other animals. Several public water supply systems have been forced to stop operations because of the presence of one such toxin: microcystin. The vast majority of phosphorus entering the Lakes is from agricultural activities.

These rural, agricultural areas of the basin are crisscrossed with tens of thousands—if not hundreds of thousands—of miles of private and public drains. They convey a large share of the nutrients and sediments that cause algae problems.

While the region debates what governments might do to control this problem, the Fund will continue to look for market-driven approaches. As agriculture increasingly relies on third parties to manage drainage, fertilizer application, design cropping systems, and to grow crops, we will work to embed conservation services into these business models. We will also work with drain owners to explore changes in how they manage and fund their networks to reduce the “flashiness” of stream flow, reduce sediment loads, and reduce the nutrients entering the Lakes.

Diffuse Pollution Sources Actions

  • Explore the opportunities available to third-party providers. Identify leaders in drain practices in the region, and the opportunities and constraints that drain managers face (and how those vary by jurisdiction). Engage experts to understand the changing economics of farming, the agricultural retail business, and the role of third-party providers in basin agriculture operations. Engage leaders and other experts in real-time sensing, monitoring, and management. Build a roadmap for new technology, better flow management, and more targeted assessments.
  • Launch a focused set of actions to test, validate, and scale third-party services providing ecological (and other) benefits. Focus on nutrient removal technologies, soil health, cropping system, wetland services, and managed drainage programs that can directly contribute to reducing nutrient driven algae outbreaks.
  • Launch an expanded series of efforts to design, test, and scale new drain assessment schemes that create incentives for better water management on farm fields; deploy a suite of IOT enabled management technologies to optimize drainage for nutrient removal; and showcase the leadership of drain managers in solving the nutrient problems in the region.
  • Drive adoption of these services by supporting the creation of operating models, promoting the services and business model, and identifying investment opportunities. Build and support a growing community of practitioners of these new practices. Catalyze cross-state collaboration among leaders and early adopters.
  • Evaluate the impact of the work by creating and tracking success metrics for individual service offerings, businesses that deploy them at scale, and adoption by end users. Engage with other funders, impact investor, and governments to grow adoption.

We are always looking for project teams that are willing to try something transformational, engage people who have never likely teamed up before, and build solutions that make better sense to everyone.

If you want to explore an idea or discuss a potential project, please don’t wait for an rfp to contact us. Email us at We encourage you to start with a conversation, even before you think about submitting anything to us.