Algal bloom forecast for Lake Erie looks better, but not by much

Western Lake Erie in September 2017

Western Lake Erie in September 2017 Elizabeth Miller ideastream

Last year's bloom ended up being severe enough to be ranked eight on a scale of 10.

"The blooms are a reminder that there is still work to do", said Crystal Davis of the Alliance for the Great Lakes.

Saying that nutrient runoff from agricultural fertilizer applications is a leading contributor to harmful algal blooms that have plagued the western end of the lake, Kasich said the order is meant to kick efforts to reduce nutrient discharges from farm fields 40 percent by 2025 "into overdrive".

Max Schaefer, regional director of the Ohio Environmental Council, said the bloom typically starts in August and continues to October and the administration examines data from earlier in the year to make its prediction. "The toxins in a large bloom may not be as concentrated as in a smaller bloom", the report notes.

What they can't predict is how toxic it might be.

Scientists predict a significant harmful algae bloom for western Lake Erie this year.

"We've done a lot to ensure the health of Lake Erie, Ohio's crown jewel, including investments of more $3 billion since 2011 to improve water quality in the lake and its watershed", Gov. Kasich said.

This year's forecast compared to past years
This year's forecast compared to past years. Credit NOAA

This year, researchers say the cyanobacteria blooms showed up a few weeks earlier than usual, due to the extremely hot temperatures early in the summer.

"Considering the increased conservation and corresponding reduction in nutrient discharges that have already been achieved throughout the Western Lake Erie Basin (WLEB), it would seem obvious that farmers would prefer the carrot approach to implement the best practices for each farm, versus a one-size-fits-all stick approach under the Kasich order", she said.

The presentation took place at Ohio State's Stone Lab on Gibraltar Island in Lake Erie.

Since 2008, the Lake Erie algae severity index score has been in the "mild" range only twice. An outbreak in 2014 contaminated the tap water for two days for more than 400,000 people around Toledo.

If approved by the state's soil and water commission, the eight designated areas would affect almost 2 million acres and an estimated 7,000 farms, according to the state's agriculture department.

New this year was an address by W. Russell Callender, assistant administrator of NOAA's National Ocean Service, who said toxin-producing harmful algal blooms have grown in importance to Congress. Excessive phosphorus - a nutrient present in fertilizers and manure that can be washed from farm fields by rain - is a major cause of the blooms.

He said the bloom cost OH millions of dollars in lost tourism and recreation value, as well as water-treatment costs.

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