News Feature | January 12, 2016

Poor Algal Bloom Outlook For Lake Erie

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Agricultural runoff is largely to blame, but there may be other factors that contribute to Lake Erie’s algae problem. A new study points to climate change as a primary factor, and it said that pressure will not relent any time soon.

“By the latter half of this century, toxic algal blooms like the one that cut off drinking water to the city of Toledo in 2014 will no longer be the exception, but the norm, a study suggests. While researchers have long suspected that climate change will lead to stronger and more frequent blooms, a new fusion of climate models and watershed models has proven those suspicions right: For Lake Erie, at least, the number of severe blooms will likely double over the next 100 years,” an announcement from Ohio State University said.

A pair of scientists recently presented these predictions in San Francisco at the American Geophysical Union’s annual conference, the Block News Alliance reported.

“The presentation by Noel Aloysius, a postdoctoral researcher in OSU’s aquatic ecology laboratory, and Hans Paerl, a distinguished professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, hit on familiar calls for tighter controls on farm fertilizers and other forms of nutrient runoff, but also underscored the complexity of the problem as Earth’s climate continues to warm,” the report said.

Around 400,000 residents in Toledo were unable to use their water for over two days due to toxic algae contamination last year, CNN reported.

One of the most pressing causes is farm run-off. At a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on cyanotoxins, John Donahue, president of the American Water Works Association, explained this factor.

“There is no uncertainty about one critical aspect of the problem: It is always associated with amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus in the water,” Donahue said, per Roll Call. “Although each watershed is unique and has its own mix of nutrient sources, across the nation the most prominent uncontrolled sources of nitrogen and phosphorus are non-point sources — that is, runoff. These sources are at the same time both the hardest to manage and the furthest from being subject to meaningful federal regulatory authority.”

For more on the prevalence and prevention of algal bloom, visit Water Online’s Nutrient Removal Solutions Center.