Lake Erie summer algae bloom expected

7/2/2013
BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
A satellite photo from a NASA website that shows algae blooms swirling on Lake Erie. A significant blue-green algae bloom in Western Lake Erie this summer could hurt tourism.
A satellite photo from a NASA website that shows algae blooms swirling on Lake Erie. A significant blue-green algae bloom in Western Lake Erie this summer could hurt tourism.

GIBRALTAR ISLAND - Western Lake Erie can expect a significant blue-green algae bloom this summer, although not as bad as the one the lake region saw two years ago, according to a forecast unveiled today by lake experts.

The western third of the lake can expect a "significant bloom" starting in early August. It will likely peak by mid-September, according to a new type of forecasting being developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

But the mass will likely only amount to about 20 percent of what it was in 2011, when dense mats of algae covered more of Lake Erie than it has in decades.

The highly anticipated 2013 forecast was unveiled today at an event at Ohio State University's Stone Laboratory on Gibraltar Island, near Put-in-Bay in front of 75 scientists, public officials, and journalists by Rick Stumpf, a NOAA oceanographer from suburban Washington. 

Mr. Stumpf said the 2013 projection merely underscores how significant the problem was two summers ago.

The 2011 bloom canvassed nearly two-thirds of Lake Erie.

Large algae mats are normally confined to the warm, shallow western third of the lake.

This summer's outbreak will most closely resemble that of 2003, he said.

It stayed in the western basin that year.

"There's any number of adjectives that can be used," Mr. Stumpf said "People should pay attention. You need to plan to work around it."

Mr. Stumpf urged Ohioans to sign up for and frequently check back with this online NOAA bulletin: www.glerl.noaa.gov/res/Centers/HABS/lake_erie_hab/lake_erie_hab.html

The algae problem has gained notoriety, not only because it has bloomed annually for so long but also because of what it has meant to Lake Erie's much-heralded recovery efforts.

The stench and unsightly pea-green mats hurt property values, are a public health threat, and drive up costs.

Melinda Huntley, executive director of the Ohio Travel Association, said algae has the potential to paralyze tourism and recreation in eight northern Ohio counties that together have an $11.5 billion impact on the state's economy.

Lake-based tourism and recreation supports 117,000 full-time jobs, or 9.8 percent of the employment in those eight counties, she said.

"What's at risk is a huge economic engine," Ms. Huntley said.

Pete Richards, director of the Heidelberg-based center, said this year's sampling of the Maumee River showed phosphorus levels in the water running slightly higher than normal. The Maumee, which runs through a mix of agriculture, residential, and industrial land, is the largest contributor of phosphorus to Lake Erie's Maumee Bay.

The problem has prompted elected officials to consider tougher rules on agriculture for years. Some farmers have voluntarily acted or taken advantage of programs with government incentives to curb runoff, from leaving wider buffer strips on their land to planting windbreaks. Scotts, the world's largest fertilizer manufacturer, has taken one of the largest corporate steps. The company, based in Marysville, Ohio, this year removed phosphorus from the products it sells.

"We're very excited that Scotts removed phosphorus from its lawn fertilizers as of Jan. 1," Jeff Reutter, director of Ohio Sea Grant and OSU's Stone Laboratory, said.

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com or 419-724-6079.