Toxic blue-green algae not expected to be as extensive on Lake Erie

COLUMBUS (WCMH)–The record bloom of blue-green algae on Lake Erie last year is not going to be replicated this summer, according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report, mostly due to drier conditions in northwestern Ohio, which means less stormwater runoff.

Two years ago, a large bloom surrounded the water intake crib at Toledo, forcing more than 400,000 customers to find another source for drinking water because the tap water was contaminated. Algal blooms have been a health concern in several of Ohio’s inland lakes, and last year a large patch formed in the Ohio River.

Algae thrive on warm, sunny days, feeding off nutrients that run off from agricultural fields (fertilizer, manure) during periods of heavy rain, coupled with industrial and urban stormwater pollution and leaky septic systems.

The past several years have produced extensive areas of blue-green algae covering a significant part of the western Lake Erie basin, although last year’s bloom remained in the central waters and away from the shore.

Although not all algae are harmful, the slimy blue-green species (cyanobacteria) releases nerve toxins (microcystins) that can make a person ill who comes in contact with the unhealthy water, kill pets, and suffocate marine life.

“When you have calm waters, you will see surface scums that have potential to be less toxic, but it will be much less severe or extensive than it has been in the last three years,” said Dr. Chris Winslow, Ohio Sea Grant and OSU Stone Lab interim director.  “Where it is day-to-day basis is going to be determined by which way the winds are blowing, ”

“It doesn’t mean that we halt our progress toward a 40 percent reduction,” Winslow said, referencing the benchmark reduction of the phosphorus load entering Lake Erie, signed on to by Ohio, Michigan and Ontario last year as part of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement in June 2015.

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