The Columbus Dispatch: Algae danger grows in Lake Erie
State environmental officials say that Lake Erie’s toxic algae blooms have never been worse and warn that fish and billions of dollars in tourism revenue are at risk.
The level of phosphorus, which feeds algae blooms, is above safe levels in nearly every section of the lake, according to a report presented yesterday by Roger Knight, Lake Erie program administrator for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
“The trends are moving in the wrong direction no matter where on the lake you go,” Knight said at a meeting of the Lake Erie Commission in Columbus. “We are way above targets.”
Analyses show numbers of walleye and yellow perch — the lake’s most-lucrative sport-fish species — drop significantly as the level of algae rises.
That affects the lake’s $10 billion annual tourism industry.
“We saw things this summer that were unreal,” said Jack Madison, general manager of a marina in Ottawa County.
“People could set beer cans on the algae. It is that thick.”
Blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, are common in most Ohio lakes but grow thick in water polluted with phosphorus from fertilizer, manure and sewage that rains wash into streams. The algae can excrete liver and nerve toxins that can sicken people, kill pets and threaten fish and wildlife.
Knight said one reason for the spike in phosphorus levels is greater runoff of farm fertilizer this year because of record rainfall.
Complicating matters is that much of the phosphorus in Lake Erie is dissolved in the water, which makes it immediately available to feed algae growth. Particulate phosphorus — phosphorus that has chemically bonded to dirt or plants — is less potent and accessible to algae.
“Dissolved phosphorus is the issue,” said Scott Nally, director of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, who added that his office will submit a proposal to counteract the Lake Erie pollution to Gov. John Kasich by February.
Algae warning signs were posted at public beaches in eight state parks, including along Lake Erie, this past summer.
“It used to be, years ago, that people would call and ask, ‘Are the fish biting?’ ” said Dave Spangler, president of the Lake Erie Waterkeepers, a group advocating preservation of the watershed.
“Now, the first question is, ‘How bad is the algae?’ ”
Spangler said waterfront business is down nearly 30 percent and that he’d like to see state officials tackle the problem with greater urgency.
The state spent $3.5 million this year to spray alum to counteract phosphorus in Grand Lake St. Marys, where algae grew so thick in 2010 that visitors were told not to touch the water.
“We had a bloom in October (in Lake Erie) that was so thick that it slowed our boats down,” Spangler said. “We’d like an all-hands-on-deck effort like we saw at St. Marys.”