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A Year Later After Algal Incident, Consortium Calls For Crackdown On Phosphorus

Algae on Lake Erie near Toledo's water intake system (pic: Brian Bull)
Algae on Lake Erie near Toledo's water intake system (pic: Brian Bull)

By ideastream's Brian Bull

Nearly a year after toxic algae blooms caused a drinking water crisis in Toledo, officials there say they found enough traces of the same toxin  this week to put its water system under a “watch” alert.  Local officials and environmentalists are now calling for extensive phosphorous reductions in Lake Erie.

Captain Paul Pacholski of the Lake Erie Charter Boat Association maneuvers his motorboat away from the docks of Curtice, Ohio, and out towards the open waters of Lake Erie.  He recalls last year’s toxic algae bloom, a sludgy lime-green mass that caused plenty of problems. 

“It would actually be a foot thick of pudding-like substance," recalls Pacholski. "It increased your fuel usage, it decreased your speed.” 

It's not that thick yet but wide swaths of neon green algae already ripple across the surface of the water.

Heavy rains this spring caused high levels of nutrient runoff, so toxic algae levels are expected to be even higher than last year when Toledo area residents went without drinking water for three days.

Today, a consortium of local officials, businesses, and environmentalists including Joel Brammier, President of the Alliance for the Great Lakes, called on legislators to reduce phosphorous emissions into Lake Erie by 40 percent in ten years.

“We can do this, but this is tons of pollution," said Brammier. "We estimated that more than five millions pounds of phosphorus and stopping five million pounds of pollution is going to be tough in ten years, and we need to get serious about how that’s going to happen.” 

The group wants new laws that better regulate and reduce phosphorus runoff from farms and lawns.