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Scientists Predict "Significant" Algal Bloom For Parts of Lake Erie

An aerial view of harmful algal blooms in the western portion of Lake Erie in September 2017. [Aerial Associates Photography / Zachary Haslick / NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory]
An aerial view of harmful algal blooms in the western portion of Lake Erie in September 2017.

The forecast for this season’s harmful algal bloom in Lake Erie is not as bad as it could have been, thanks to high water levels in all the Great Lakes.

Dr. Richard Stumpf with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says the Detroit River is bringing in water from Lake Huron.

“Lake Huron is low nutrients. So there’s a dilution factor with this. So there’s a lot of low nutrient water flowing through," he says. "Granted, it’s in the upper part of the western basin, not the southern part. But some of that with wind patterns — they push blooms south, north. There is some mixing.”

Stumpf says the algal bloom outlook this year is well below 2015 levels, when the severity index was a whopping 10.5, one of the highest on record. Last year’s severity was a 3.6, considered mild by experts. The severity index is based on a bloom’s biomass — the amount of its harmful algae — over a sustained period. 

“In a sense, we have a situation where we’re looking at a potential 7.5 bloom, but we could have been looking at a much worse bloom given the amount of rainfall and discharge we saw into the lake," he says. 

Nutrients such as phosphorus from fertilizers that run off from fields and roads into the lake feed the algae bloom.

But he says it’s important to note that the bloom is not everywhere in Lake Erie.

“So please assume you can find places to boat on the lake where there is no bloom. You can find places to recreate. Most of the places will be fine all the time," he says.

Stumpf recommends checking county health department websites for daily beach water quality reports. Resources like  Beach Guard through Ohio.gov monitor toxin levels.

He says the cold spring meant a late start to this year’s algae bloom.

Annie Wu is the deputy editor of digital content for Ideastream Public Media.