Saturday, Jun 25, 2016
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Toxic bloom

Once again, western Lake Erie is fouled by a smelly, green, algae bloom

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A dense mat of microcystis algae, Lake Erie's most prevalent form of toxic blue-green algae, is scooped out around the docks of Gibraltar Island, near South Bass Island.

OHIO SEA GRANT Enlarge

Once again, western Lake Erie is fouled by a smelly, green, algae bloom that is not only nasty but also carries a potentially lethal toxin. Now a month old, the bloom has closed beaches, made boating unpleasant, negatively impacted commercial fishing and other businesses, and reduced lakefront property values.

Ohio needs to take action now to reduce the phosphorus runoff that feeds algae growth in Lake Erie. Algae toxins forced a nearly two-day shutdown of the Carroll Township Water Plant after they were detected recently. And when the toxins are detected in Toledo’s water system, city taxpayers pay an extra $150,000 a month to eliminate them.

Scientists lay much of the blame for Lake Erie’s algae blooms on phosphorus runoff from the Maumee River.

Today, the International Joint Commission of the United States and Canada, which drove the historic cleanup of the lake in the 1970s and 1980s, will take public comment at Maumee Bay Lodge in Oregon on new proposals to clean up the lake. An open house begins at 6 p.m., and the hearing runs from 7 to 9 p.m.

The commission has solid recommendations that U.S. and Canadian governments ought to act on immediately.

First, they should develop phosphorus cleanup plans for the western and central basins of Lake Erie. All parties — governments in Ohio, Michigan, and Ontario, along with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Environment Canada — need to be involved.

Phosphorus flowing out of the Maumee in springtime should be reduced by 37 percent. Studies show most of the runoff occurs between March 1 and June 30.

To cut down runoff into the Maumee River, governments ought to ban the application of manure and biosolid fertilizer on frozen or snow-covered ground. Scientists say runoff in the cold spring of 2011 contributed to a record-setting algae bloom. It cost recreational fishing an estimated $2.4 million and beach recreation about $1.3 million for Maumee Bay State Park, the IJC says.

If a better analysis were done, the commission says, the estimated costs of the bloom could go as high as $25 million more for damage to coastal property values — and even more if a decline in tourism were linked to harmful blooms in the lake.

To identify polluters, public agencies must monitor the amount of phosphorus coming out of discharge facilities along the lake’s watershed.

Finally, they ought to strengthen and expand the reasonable regulation of nutrient management and promote so-called green infrastructure — including roofs, walls, filter strips, engineered wetlands, and pervious pavement — to manage urban stormwater runoff.

Erie is the shallowest and smallest of the five Great Lakes. With 11.6 million people living in its basin, it’s also the most densely populated, making it more vulnerable to pollution.

Algae blooms have worsened during the past 20 years, says Thomas Bridgeman, associate professor at the University of Toledo’s Department of Environmental Sciences, who regularly monitors the lake’s water quality.

Unless governments make dramatic changes soon, the problem will continue to get worse, producing more deadly toxins that kill fish — and repel tourists.

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