Scientists expect 'significant' algae bloom on Lake Erie


A significant algae bloom is expected to form in Lake Erie this summer, scientists say.

University of MI researchers said western Lake Erie "will experience a significant harmful algal bloom" in a forecast made public by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that funded the research. The largest blooms, 2011 and 2015, were 10 and 10.5, respectively. "NOAA's forecast reminds us that Lake Erie's algae problem has not gone away and that we can't just hope for dry springs as a solution".

He declined to predict the potential danger of the bloom.

This chart shows the mass of Lake Erie's harmful algal blooms the past 15 years.

"With a bloom of this size and scale expected, it is clear that this problem can only be addressed at the source", said Nicholas Mandros of the Ohio Environmental Council "Toxic algae is primarily caused by agricultural runoff, and Ohio's voluntary approach simply isn't enough to curb the algae-causing pollution flowing into Lake Erie".

It was the alarming levels of a toxin produced by blooms that caused a do-not-drink advisory that shut down the water supply for nearly 500,000 people in Toledo and southeast MI for a weekend in August 2014.

"It'll be large, green and ugly and will cause the same kinds of issues it has in the past for charter boat captains trying to get people out to fish", said Don Scavia, a University of MI scientist. Even so, the answer to the problem can not be to cross our fingers and hope that seasonal fluctuations in weather will keep us safe.

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Stumpf said, based on five different data sources, that this summer's algal bloom likely will be more than double the size of last summer's bloom, which was one of the smallest in the last decade. The toxins in a large bloom may not be as concentrated, they said. The difference year by year? "If you have a northeast wind, OH has a problem", one scientist said.

"It seems like it's water volume and rain that drives all of the patterns we're seeing for phosphorus loading". The reason, researchers say, is there are many different types of algae and cyanobacteria, and while the size of a bloom can be predicted, scientists can't yet forecast a bloom's toxicity.

"These blooms always produce some toxins", says National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Oceanographer Rick Stumpf.

How deep an algae bloom is present in the water column is another factor in how and whether water supplies - with their deeper intake pipes in the lake - are affected, he said. "Southwest winds, you may not see it here in Ohio".

The bloom's location varies from year to year, driven by weather patterns, but the central and eastern portions of Lake Erie are typically spared.

Government leaders from Ontario, Michigan and OH agreed in 2015 to reduce the amount of phosphorus entering the lake by 40 per cent by 2025.