One Upside From This Year’s Rain: Less Fertilizer And Algae In Lake Erie (#GotBitcoin?)
The pollutants that feed algae are washing into the lake at lower amounts. One Upside From This Year’s Rain: Less Fertilizer And Algae In Lake Erie (#GotBitcoin?)
Heavy rains that have hampered farmers across the Midwest will help keep potentially toxic blue-green algae blooms from reaching near-record levels in Lake Erie this summer, forecasters say.
Typically more rain leads to an increase in the amount of phosphorus washed from farm fields into rivers and the lake where the nutrient feeds algae. But rainfall was so severe last fall and this spring that it cut the number of days farmers could work in fields and spread fertilizer.
The amount of phosphorus washing into Lake Erie from the Maumee River was 30% lower than it would have been without the farming interruptions, based on the volume of water reaching the lake, researchers in Ohio said Thursday at a news conference.
“We could have been looking at a much worse bloom given the amount of rainfall we saw,” said Rick Stumpf, an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The blooms are closely monitored in Lake Erie, which provides drinking water for 11 million people in the U.S. and Canada. Toxins produced by certain species of algae can sicken people and animals and hurt fishing and tourism. In 2014, the toxin microcystin produced by algae contaminated the drinking water for nearly half a million people in Toledo, Ohio.
The algal blooms that appear in satellite photos as wispy pockets of turquoise in the blue lake are expected to rival those in 2017 but fall short of record levels in 2011 and 2015.
Mr. Stumpf and other researchers pegged the severity of this year’s bloom at 7.5 on a scale from 1 to 10, compared with 10 in 2011 and 10.5 in 2015, when researchers had to expand the scale.
Recent research into the blooms has focused on preventing them and understanding how they grow. In the Maumee River, only about 9% of phosphorus comes from water-treatment plants. The vast majority comes from runoff from farm fields, said Laura Johnson, director of the National Center for Water Quality Research at Heidelberg University.
The Ohio forecast comes as unusually large algal blooms have closed about two dozen beaches in Mississippi along the Gulf Coast. Experts said the blooms, which are rare to the region, can most clearly be explained by recent flooding in the Mississippi River.
This year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has opened the Bonnet Carre Spillway in Louisiana to prevent flooding in New Orleans and other low-lying areas from the swollen Mississippi River. That brought an influx of nutrients into the Gulf and lowered salinity, creating the conditions for algae to grow.
“If you did not have the Bonnet Carre spillway open, you would not have these kinds of blooms in Mississippi,” said Mr. Stumpf of NOAA.
In Ohio, fishermen are hoping for a mild year.
Scott Heston, 57, who owns a fishing charter out of Port Clinton, Ohio, in Sandusky Bay, said his business hasn’t been affected so far by any blooms. He said that based on water samples he is providing weekly to researchers at Ohio State University only about 10% of algae in the area are toxin-producing.
The fishing is exceptionally good these days for channel catfish, he said. On Thursday, clients caught about 100 of the fish, the biggest of which weighed 13 ½ pounds.
“You always hope for less of the toxic algae, the stuff that makes it unsafe to use your beaches and unsafe to eat some of the fish,” said Mr. Heston, who said he has been fishing in Sandusky Bay for 50 years. “Only time will tell with further testing where we really stand.” One Upside From This