Last year at this time, the toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie caused nearly half a million people in and around Toledo, Ohio, to be without safe drinking water. Clean water from our taps is something that many of us take for granted, but if we don’t protect our water sources — like the residents of Toledo discovered — we won’t be able to take it for granted anymore.
Last year’s bloom was not a new occurrence in Lake Erie, and wasn’t even as bad as 2011’s record-breaking bloom, but it’s the first time on record the lake’s algae caused a Do-Not-Drink-the-Water advisory on that scale.
And the outlook for this year doesn’t look good either, as scientists from the National Oceanic at Atmospheric Administration predict this summer’s bloom “will be among the most severe in recent years.” And on Tuesday, Toledo’s mayor announced that microcystin was detected in Lake Erie near the city’s drinking water intake.
Microcystins are a type of toxin commonly found in algae blooms that can cause nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting, as well as liver damage in rare cases. Along with warming temperatures attributed to climate change that exacerbate the problem, algae blooms are often caused by the chemical process known as eutophication, or the oversupply of nutrients.
The record-breaking bloom of 2011 in Lake Erie was the impetus for a detailed report that includes strategies on how to keep it from happening again, focusing on reducing nutrient pollution in the form of phosphorus into the lake. A task forcealso found that Lake Erie received the most phosphorus of any of the Great Lakes – nearly 50 percent of the total for all of the lakes, with two-thirds of that phosphorus from farm land.
The two reports also note that algal blooms were a massive problem in Lake Erie in the 60s and 70s, but were curtailed by reducing and regulating phosphorous use. That seemed to basically fix the problem with an occasional flair-up into the 80s and early 90s, only to reappear this decade worse than ever.