Today, NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) released its forecast for this summer's algae bloom in the western end of Lake Erie. Unfortunately, the news isn't good. The prediction is that "western Lake Erie will experience a significant harmful algal bloom this summer, potentially reaching levels last seen in 2013 and 2014". The 2014 bloom was so toxic it shut down the drinking water supply for nearly 500,000 residents in Toledo, Ohio. On Pelee Island, it led to beach closures and a public health advisory to not use the lake water.
While the size of a bloom isn't necessarily an indication of how toxic it is, any sizable algae blooms this summer will most likely have negative impacts on the lake and surrounding communities. They could cause beach closures, hurt tourism, kill fish, and add additional water treatment costs. According to one report, if action isn’t taken to solve this problem, Lake Erie algae blooms could cost Ontarians $272 million a year.
“Although residents got off easy last year due to an unusually dry spring and summer, this year’s forecast is a reminder that Lake Erie’s algae problem hasn’t gone away,” said Ashley Wallis, Water Program Manager with Environmental Defence. “We need governments to address runoff pollution from agricultural lands if they’re serious about a healthy Lake Erie.”
The main cause of the blooms is phosphorus running off from nearby agricultural lands. The Ontario and federal governments, and their U.S. counterparts, have made commitments to tackle algae blooms by reducing the amount of runoff pollution entering the lake. Earlier this spring, the Ontario and federal governments released their draft action plan on how to achieve this. However, the plan needs to be strengthened to adequately address algae.
“The draft action plan is little more than a laundry list of existing programs and initiatives,” said Raj Gill with the Canadian Freshwater Alliance. “Governments need to ensure the final action plan lays out a strategy for success, with new tools, tactics and funding.”
“At a minimum, the final action plan needs to have clear timelines on when we can expect the health of the lake to improve, incentives and support programs to help farmers reduce nutrient runoff, and funding to ensure the plan gets implemented,” added Nancy Goucher with Freshwater Future Canada.
We call upon the Canadian and American governments to move quickly to reduce runoff pollution and fight the increasingly frequent and severe algae blooms that threaten the health of the lake, and the people, fish and wildlife that depend on it.
Join us in our collective efforts by signing the Lake Erie Alive Declaration.