Published: Sat, July 15, 2017
Science | By Cecil Little

Scientists expect 'significant' algae bloom on Lake Erie

Scientists expect 'significant' algae bloom on Lake Erie

The western side of Lake Erie may see a boom in harmful algal bloom this summer that could match recent years but not pass the record in 2015, a new report warned Thursday.

According to NOAA, the algae bloom will most likely appear in late July and early August.

Much of the lake is expected to be algae-free throughout the bloom season, said Christopher Winslow, director of the Ohio Sea Grant College Program.

In addition to making swimming, boating, fishing and other lake-related tourism a potentially mucky mess, impacts from the blooms include blocked sunlight affecting aquatic organisms and fish choking with clogged gills.

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Several hot spots for algae blooms on Lake Erie created a crisis in 2014 when toxins produced by the green-coloured scum contaminated the drinking water source for 400,000 people in the area of Toledo, Ohio, and Monroe, Mich. The largest blooms since the problem returned to Lake Erie in the late 1990s, in 2011 and 2015, were 10 and 10.5, respectively, on the severity index.

Bloom size does not necessarily correlate with its risk to public health, however.

"This year's bloom is likely to be significantly larger than the average year, approaching some of the largest blooms on record", said forecaster Don Scavia, an aquatic ecologist at the University of MI. "If you have a northeast wind, OH has a problem", one scientist said.

"Generally, if you see a bloom well, it's a boater's problem; if you don't see it well, it's a water treatment plant's problem", Stumpf said.

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How deep an algae bloom is present in the water column is another factor in how and whether water supplies - with their deeper intake pipes in the lake - are affected, he said. Spring and summer rainfall plays a key role in bloom formation by washing fertilizers from croplands into streams and rivers that flow into the lake. A similar pattern is expected in coming months.

Both of Ohio's USA senators reacted to the announcements, and cited the reports as evidence of the value of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the federal budgets for NOAA's Sea Grant program, which funds the Stone Lab. NOAA is now developing tools to predict how toxic blooms will be.

"The governments of Canada and the United States, along with Michigan, Ohio and Ontario, need to do much more to solve the problem", said Nancy Goucher, manager of partnerships for Freshwater Future, in a statement released by several environmental groups.

This year, NOAA will begin incorporating additional satellite data into its Lake Erie Harmful Algal Bloom Forecast System that will enhance accuracy and detail. "The millions of Ohioans who rely on the lake can't afford to lose important resources like the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative as they face the threat of algal blooms".

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