No excessive pollution evident at area beaches

But algae, bacteria have been difficult to control

Maumee Bay State Park posts signs to alert beach-goers when water quality is compromised by excessive bacteria and algae.
Maumee Bay State Park posts signs to alert beach-goers when water quality is compromised by excessive bacteria and algae.

Ohio Department of Health sampling results show no major bacteria or algae pollution for Lucas and Ottawa County beaches so far this summer, including Maumee Bay State Park.

But residents will want to proceed with caution as they get deeper into the beach-bathing season.

Trending data in a new report issued Wednesday by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s largest group of environmental lawyers, show Ohio struggled again in 2012 to keep bacteria and algae under control at its Lake Erie beaches, even with far less rainfall than normal.

The report, compiled annually for 23 years, looks at beaches along the Great Lakes, the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and the Gulf of Mexico.

Of 30 states with beaches along those coastal shorelines, Ohio repeated as the one with the highest percentage of water samples that did not meet federal health standards. The state had 21 percent of its samples with excessive bacteria or algae in 2012, according to the report.

Nationally, there was a 14 percent reduction in the number of days beaches had swimming advisories posted. That is believed to be largely a result of much of the continental United States experiencing its worst drought in more than 50 years. The lack of rain meant less runoff and fewer sewage overflows.

But for reasons unknown, Ohio’s 2012 results nearly mirrored the state’s 2011 data. The NRDC report showed Wisconsin and Minnesota beaches trailing only Ohio for 2012 advisories.

“The numbers didn’t show as dramatic of a decline [in Ohio] as we expected,” said Rob Moore, a senior water policy analyst for the group.

Mr. Moore released the report at Maumee Bay State Park with Sandy Bihn, founder of the Western Lake Erie Waterkeeper Association. Ms. Bihn said long-term data for Ohio suggests improvements are gradually occurring, but that bacteria and algae may still be able to thrive during dry spells because of how much phosphorus and other pollutants have been imbedded in the sediment over the years.

“I’m not sure how much we know or understand all of the factors,” said Ms. Bihn, an Oregon city councilman. “That’s why we advocate stronger testing.”

Although Maumee Bay State Park’s bacteria has been kept in check to this point in 2013, that hasn’t been the case in years past.

Great Lakes scientists also fear this could be a rough summer for algae — especially throughout warm, shallow western Lake Erie — because heavy rain in spring and early summer followed what was a relatively mild winter for this region. Those concerns were documented in a University of Michigan report earlier this year.

The bacteria problem usually is more prevalent in early to mid summer. During summers when a lot of algae is present, dense pea-colored blooms typically form across the lake’s western basin by mid-August — although they have been forming earlier in recent years, which scientists have described as another symptom of climate change.

The state Department of Health’s Web site shows most 2013 advisories for Lake Erie beach bacteria have been in Erie County and points east so far.

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