News Feature | March 26, 2014

Algae Blooms Threaten Lake Erie

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Algae on Lake Erie is presenting major obstacles to drinking water treatment plants. 

In a report on Lake Erie released this month, the International Joint Commission (IJC) said algae are a big problem for water utilities. The IJC is an international group that monitors the Great Lakes. 

"In cases where harmful algae blooms (HABs) appear, municipal water treatment facilities drawing water supplies from Lake Erie may need to carry out additional treatment before the water is safe for human consumption," the report said.

It noted that a survey of 15 public water systems in Ohio showed that 10 used additional treatments on lake water as a result of HABs. 

"These treatments included the application of powdered activated carbon, chlorine dioxide, and potassium permanganate. Additional control costs totaled $417,200 for the 10 water utilities, ranging from individual plant costs of $400 to $240,000. It is important to note that algal bloom events of 2009 were less severe than in 2011, and as such, these costs can be seen as a conservative estimate," the report said. 

Ratepayers are wary of the issue, as well. "Public concerns about the impact of HABs on drinking water in Lake Erie were heightened in the summer of 2013," the report said. 

Lake Erie has not always faced such tough health problems. "Once a success story about how a polluted lake can be brought back to life, [it] is once again struggling to survive," CBC News reported

The IJC is trying to fight for the lake. Along with releasing the report, the body "announced an ambitious plan to improve the water quality in Lake Erie," according to The State Column

It proposed "a 46 percent cut in the average annual phosphorus load in Lake Erie’s central and western basins to reduce the hypoxic dead zone, and a 39 percent cut in the average annual phosphorus contributed by the Maumee River to reduce harmful algal blooms," Circle Of Blue reported

The group tried to make sure its recommendations would actually go somewhere. 

"The Commission recommended achieving those reductions by applying Public Trust Doctrine legal principles to write and enforce restrictions that have been unattainable using conventional regulation," the report said. 

Lana Pollack, U.S. chair of the IJC, expressed concern for of the lake in a statement.

“The public has told us, and research has confirmed, that Lake Erie is impaired by an excess of nutrients that feed harmful [algae]” she said. ”We commend the U.S. and Canada for their work and investments to help Lake Erie, but it’s time for governments at all levels to put the lake on a diet by setting targets and achieving real reductions in nutrient loads.”

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