By Angela Fritz
12 November 2015
(Washington Post) – The algae in Lake Erie was more severe and more highly concentrated this summer than in any summer since NOAA began measuring the blooms in 2002. This year’s harmful green bloom was due to excessive Midwest rainfall in spring and summer, and the fertilizer that rain picks up and carries to rivers which empty into the lake. [Lake Erie HABs Bulletin]
The algae isn’t just an eyesore — it’s incredibly harmful to humans. It produces a toxin called microcystin that, in August of 2014, reached such high levels that officials declared a water ban in Toledo — you couldn’t even drink it if you boiled it. When swallowed, mycrocystin can cause stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, severe headaches and fever.
The toxic algae feed off of nutrients that run into Lake Erie primarily from the Maumee River, which snakes through the fertile farmlands of Ohio and Indiana. The runoff from these farms contains nitrogen from fertilizer and phosphorus from livestock manure and sewage, which sends the algae in Lake Erie into overdrive.
This year the rain over Ohio and Indiana was truly excessive. The Maumee River watershed received as much as eight inches more than normal in the month of June. It was also the fourth wettest June in Toledo, Ohio, and one of the top 20 wettest months since records began in 1880.
It was also the Maumee River’s highest discharge for the month of June, a full 30 percent higher than the previous discharged record in 1980, and third highest discharge month out of any month on record, according to Rick Stumpf, an oceanographer and toxic algae expert at NOAA.
The timing was also critical in this year’s peak — the rains came at just the right time for the algae in Lake Erie to take the most advantage of the nutrients in the runoff. [more]