Researchers predict smaller harmful algae bloom on Lake Erie


PUT-IN-BAY, Ohio (AP) — Potentially toxic algae is expected to form again this summer in western Lake Erie but should be considerably less severe than the blooms that blanketed the lake and threatened drinking water supplies the previous two years, scientists said Thursday.

After three wet springs, the region’s rainfall was more normal this year, said Richard Stumpf of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. That means less phosphorus from farms and sewage treatment plants has washed into the Maumee River and other tributaries that discharge into the lake, feeding harmful algae.

“With a return to average spring discharge, and much lower river flow in June than in the recent years, the western basin should look better,” said Stumpf, of NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science and the agency’s top Lake Erie algae forecaster.

Even so, a bloom of mild to moderate size is likely to show up late this month, reach its peak size in August and possibly linger into October, he said.

Where it goes and how big a headache it poses for water treatment plant managers and residents will depend largely on wind patterns.

In 2014, winds and currents steered a massive bloom into the Toledo area, leaving more than 400,000 people unable to drink tap water for two days. Last year’s bloom was the largest on record, spreading scum for 300 square miles. But it stayed farther from shore and didn’t prompt a do-not-drink order.

In addition to forming ugly mats of pea soup-green on the water surface, algae blooms contribute to oxygen-deprived dead zones where fish can’t survive.

Federal and state agencies have committed to a 40 percent drop in phosphorus runoff into the lake and are developing plans for achieving it.

A coalition of environmental groups said the measures proposed thus far by Michigan, Ohio and federal agencies are inadequate and should require farms to sharply curtail runoff of manure and other fertilizers.

“We cannot just cross our fingers and hope for dry weather to ensure a healthy Lake Erie,” the groups said. “We strongly urge the U.S. and Canadian governments to move quickly to create effective, real world plans for reducing agricultural pollution.”

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