Forecast for lake Erie this season come with Algae

The stinky, scummy algal bloom in Lake Erie is expected to be so severe this summer it could approach the record 2011 bloom and become the second worst blue-green algae season in recent history.

“Given that last year the Toledo drinking water system was shut down for a few days just based on moderate-sized blooms, I think we should be worried,” Raj Bejankiwar, an environmental scientist with the International Joint Commission in Windsor, said Friday.

Bejankiwar said water treatment plants along Lake Erie will have to be extra vigilant this summer with monitoring water and the forecast.

He said it will also significantly impact beaches, swimming, fishing, boating and tourism. In 2011 the harmful algal bloom reached the south shore of Essex County, forced beach closures and had residents complaining about the stench.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association is predicting an 8.7 bloom on its severity index that potentially could be as high as 9.5. The severity index is based on 2011 being a 10 as the worst bloom in recent history.

The stinky, scummy algal bloom in Lake Erie is expected to be so severe this summer it could approach the record 2011 bloom and become the second worst blue-green algae season in recent history.

“Given that last year the Toledo drinking water system was shut down for a few days just based on moderate-sized blooms, I think we should be worried,” Raj Bejankiwar, an environmental scientist with the International Joint Commission in Windsor, said Friday.

Bejankiwar said water treatment plants along Lake Erie will have to be extra vigilant this summer with monitoring water and the forecast.

He said it will also significantly impact beaches, swimming, fishing, boating and tourism. In 2011 the harmful algal bloom reached the south shore of Essex County, forced beach closures and had residents complaining about the stench.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association is predicting an 8.7 bloom on its severity index that potentially could be as high as 9.5. The severity index is based on 2011 being a 10 as the worst bloom in recent history.

Thursday’s prediction doesn’t even take into account this week’s rain which could increase the severity in the next bulletin, said Chris Winslow, interim director of the Ohio Sea Grant and Ohio State University’s Stone Lab on Gilbratar Island in Lake Erie.

“It has the potential to look like 2011,” Winslow said. “Now how that affects Ohio waters and Canadian waters is now at basically the whim of the weather.”

A lot of southwesterly winds will push the bloom to Canadian shores while winds out of the northeast will make it worse for the American side, Winslow said. The algal bloom usually appears in late July or early August and reaches its peak in late August and early September.

The bloom is expected to be worse than the 6.5 rating last year and worse than 2013 which had been the second worst algal bloom season at about an 8.5, Winslow said.  “One of the wettest Junes on record is what changed the prediction from an early low anticipation to a high reality,” he said of the weather in Ohio.

The bloom is fuelled by spring rains and phosphorus from farm lands getting into the lake between March 1 and June 30 especially in Ohio from the Maumee River so predictions can become more accurate by July. The green algae in the lake right now is good algae, Winslow said. As the lake warms up the harmful algae forms.

That has Pelee Island Mayor Rick Masse wondering if it will be as bad as predicted. He said the conditions are right with the phosphorus loading from the spring rains but there are other conditions that need to be in place for the toxic algae to grow such as the temperature. The lake is cooler than usual now, he said. It’s too early to be sure of the intensity, where it will end up and how long it will stay, Masse said.

“Obviously I don’t want it to come,” Masse said. The island is ready with an early detection system.

Ontario, Ohio and Michigan agreed last month to reduce the phosphorus heading to Lake Erie by 40 per cent in the next decade. Phosphorus comes from fertilizer runoff and from faulty septic systems and sewage treatment plant discharges during storms.

Bejankiwar said if the algal bloom forecast turns out to be correct later this summer “it’s a bad thing but it’s going to support those urgent actions.”

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