[USA] TIFFIN – Heavy June rains likely will make toxic algae on Lake Erie worse this summer than scientists initially thought when they released their early forecast this spring.
The bloom could be as bad as last year, when toxin from the algae contaminated the city of Toledo’s drinking water, according to Laura Johnson, research scientist at the Heidelberg University’s National Center for Water Quality Research, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
In May, NOAA released its early algae forecast and predicted the algae would not be as bad last year. NOAA scientists had stressed that the forecast was tentative.
Since then, storms have sent more water and runoff, likely containing phosphorous that fuels the algae, into Lake Erie, Johnson said.
“We were going to be a lower-than-average-type year,” Johnson told the Ohio Lake Erie Commission during its meeting Thursday at Heidelberg. “Then June came, and now we’re up to about what 2014 was.”
If more rain comes, the prediction could become more severe, she said.
But scientists won’t know for sure how bad the harmful blue-green algae will be until it starts showing up later this summer, usually at the end of July. They should have a better idea when they release their official algae forecast on July 9 at The Ohio State University’s Stone Laboratory on Gibraltar Island.
NOAA releases a prediction of how bad the algae will be on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the worst. Last year, NOAA forecast the bloom would be a six, and the agency deemed that forecast accurate.
The algae can produce a toxin that can sicken people and pets and has been a problem on Lake Erie, especially the Western Basin, since the early 2000s. It threatens local drinking water supplies and Lake Erie’s multi-billion-dollar tourism industry.
To stop the algae, several organizations recommend reducing the amount of phosphorous getting into Lake Erie by 40 percent. On June 13, Ohio, Michigan and Ontario signed an agreement to work to reduce the phosphorous by 40 percent by 2025.
Phosphorous and nitrogen, another nutrient that contributes to the blooms, come from fertilizer in farm runoff, sewer systems, septic tanks and other sources.
A 40-percent reduction should greatly lessen the size and severity of the harmful algal blooms on Lake Erie, said Jeff Reutter, who is part of a work group involved with the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, a pact between the United States and Canada to reduce threats to Great Lakes water quality.
With that reduction, the 2011 bloom, which was the worst on record and considered a 10 on the severity scale, would have looked like the 2008 bloom, which was a six on the scale, Reutter said.
To reduce the blooms, farmers have implemented a variety of changes in how they apply fertilizer. The state also has passed laws banning putting fertilizer on frozen and rain-soaked ground and requiring farmers to take a state-run certification course that teaches them how much fertilizer is needed for certain areas of land and when it should be applied.
Photo: (Photo: Kristina Smith/Staff photo)
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