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Lake Erie Algae Content Expected To Double Over Last Year

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Ohioans seeking fun in the sun could find more algae standing in their way this summer. A national report says additional scum will surface on part of Lake Erie compared to last year. Statehouse correspondent Andy Chow has the details.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013 at 10:43 am

Twice as much algae as last year.

That’s what beach goers could find when they visit western Lake Erie in August.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, also known as NOAA, says the amount of harmful algal blooms will increase compared to last year BUT it’s still one-fifth the size of 2011’s record algae load.

NOAA based its prediction on the amount of nutrients found flowing from the Maumee River and into the western basin… near Toledo. This year’s increase in algae is due to a large amount of rainfall from March through June, including heavy April showers.

So what does this mean for people visiting Ohio’s beaches? Jeff Reutter… director of Ohio State University’s Sea Grant Program… says algae can already be found at the Maumee Bay and Sandusky Bay beaches. And those blooms will move towards the lake.

Reutter: “At certain times the beaches in the western basin of the lake, west of Sandusky, at certain times those beaches are likely to be impacted to a level where people might not want to go those."

Rick Stumpf, Oceanographer with NOAA, says even the appearance of algae can impact recreational use.

Stumpf: “Primarily because it’s unappealing when you actually get the scum. Fishing would be fine—when there’s no scum in the water—no visible algae—it’d be safe to go swimming in the lake. It is obvious when there’s a potential problem."

Stumpf says the algae creates another dilemma that Ohioans won’t see on the lake… but it will impact water treatment plants.

Stumpf: “Their public water suppliers have to go to a more expensive treatment to ensure that the water is perfectly safe and also has no taste or odor issues and so there’s actually a cost."

According to a city of Toledo spokesperson, utility costs are set by local ordinance which accommodates for variables such as higher algae rates. That means ratepayers won’t notice a change on their water bills.

Reducing those nutrients means cutting them off at the source, which includes Ohio’s farmlands. A major ingredient to algae is phosphorus… the same chemical found in many fertilizers.

So the Ohio Senate is considering a bill that creates fertilizer application guidelines for farmers. Republican senator Bob Peterson says addressing nutrient management issues will help farmers and the environment at the same time.

Peterson: “I farm, and the last thing I want is the nutrients—the fertilizers that I put on my field—to leave my field. One of the largest bills I pay for every year is my fertilizer bill and the last thing I want is that nutrient not to be there when the crop needs it."

And that’s the message Peterson and other senators are spreading throughout the state this summer as legislators visit their county fairs. Peterson says it’s important to collect input from farmers to make sure the state tackles the problem while avoiding over regulation.

Peterson: “The last thing we want to do is put something in place that doesn’t solve the problem. We don’t want to put a regulatory burden on anybody if it doesn’t help solve the problem."

Stumpf is encouraged by the work of Ohio’s policymakers.

Stumpf: “Those are all doable strategies it’s a question of coming up with the right approach and the right commitment and I think Ohio—from what I’ve seen—Ohio has the ability to do that. The problem isn’t being solved right now but the solution is being worked on.”

There is good news when it comes to this year’s algae forecast. NOAA says most of the blooms are expected to appear in late August when school starts up and beach visits slow down.

In the meantime, NOAA provides weekly updates on algae in Lake Erie and what visitors can expect to see when they head to the beach.

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