News and views, and history and humor, about the lake I love.

"I can hear my granddad's stories of the storms out on Lake Erie, where vessels and cargos and fortunes, and sailors' lives were lost." ~ James Taylor, Millworker

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Algae bloom reaches Fairport Harbor as scientific report urges cautious approach

MERIS image from the European Space Agency taken October 11 (courtesy NOAA)
Despite the onset of fall and cooler temperatures in Lake Erie, a large Microcystis bloom persists in the western end of the lake, extending well past Cleveland to the east, according to NOAA, who reported on Thursday that the eastern extent was just past Fairport Harbor. The bloom also hugs the northen shore in Ontario, to the Rondeau Provincial Park region. NOAA forecasting calls for the bloom to continue moving eastward as far as Geneva on the Lake, and remain offshore. However, the northern portion of the bloom was expected to dissipate.

This latest Harmful Algal Bloom bulletin was released coincidental to a report by the International Joint Commission, a U.S.-Canadian agency that advises both nations on issues affecting the Great Lakes, which cautioned that the scientific evidence about the causes are still too sketchy and that further study of the problem is needed. The report, and the latest HAB bulletin, also came amid increasing demands by some for quick action.

It's widely believed that phosphorus runoff from farms and municipal waste treatment plants is a leading cause of the algae problem, but climate change and invasive mussels are also considered factors. However, these assumptions are based largely on observations rather than scientific experimentation, the report says. Joseph Koonce, the co-chairman of the group that wrote the report, said further research is needed to determine the roles of each of the presumed causes.

When overabundant algae choked Lake Erie decades ago, cities improved sewage treatment and laundry detergents containing phosphorus were banned. But the problem has in recent years, and in particular this past summer, when,  scientists say, algae covered more of Lake Erie than it has in a half-century.

There is disagreement among some scientists and activists about how best to attack the problem. Many are pushing government officials for quick action. The Environmental Protection Agency announced last Wednesday that three watersheds plagued with algae including the Maumee River, which flows into Lake Erie, would receive special attention as part of a pending Great Lakes restoration program. And environmental groups as well as private charter boat operators want something done right away.

If next summers algae bloom turns out to be as bad as or worse than it was this year, I suspect that the hue and cry for strong and immediate action will outweigh the pleadings of scientists.

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