Windsor

Lake Erie algae expected to be 'less harmful' this year

Western Lake Erie will experience a bloom of blue-green algae "less severe than the record-setting one experienced last year during the harmful algal bloom season," according to a report released by American scientists at Ohio State University.

'The news is not cause for celebration,' environmentalists warn

A previous bloom of algae shown near the city of Toledo, Ohio. (NASA Earth Observatory)

Western Lake Erie will experience a bloom of blue-green algae "less severe than the record-setting one experienced last year during the harmful algal bloom season," according to a report released by American scientists at Ohio State University.

Their annual outlook, released Thursday morning, predicts the bloom will measure 5.5 on the severity index, but could range anywhere between 3.0 and 7.0. The forecast is similar to conditions last seen from 2008 to 2010.

The algae bloom severity index runs from zero to a high of 10. A severity above 5.0 indicates blooms of particular concern.

Scientists say the lower number forecast for this summer is due to less discharge from the Maumee River in Toledo, Ohio and a return to an average nutrient runoff into the lake.

Phosphorus runoff is a significant cause of annual algae growth in the lake.

According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, these blooms "are capable of producing toxins that pose a risk to human and animal health, foul coastlines, and impact communities and businesses that depend on the lake."

The bloom usually peaks in size in August.

"While the NOAA forecast calls for a mild algae season on Lake Erie this summer due to an unseasonably dry spring, the news is not cause for celebration," a consortium of environmental groups said in a news release. "Nevertheless, it may provide some respite for the nearly 11 million people that receive drinking water from Lake Erie as well as those who boat, fish and recreate on the lake, all who have felt the impacts of several years of near-record breaking harmful, and at times toxic, algal blooms."

The statement was jointly issued by Environmental Defence Canada, Canadian Freshwater Alliance, Freshwater Future, Alliance for the Great Lakes, Michigan League of Conservation Voters and the Ohio Environmental Council.

Katie Stammler, a water quality scientist with the Essex Region Conservation Authority near Windsor, Ont., said she's "cautiously optimistic" about the forecast.

She said the prediction could change if there's more rain that washes phosphorous from the Maumee River into the lake.

Stammler said the lower levels are good for fisherman and beach goers.

Blooms of blue-green algae can produce toxins that may taint drinking water and recreational water.

People who drink or swim in water that contains high concentrations of these algae or the toxins may experience gastroenteritis, skin irritation and allergic responses, according to the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

In addition, algae blooms can stink up harbours, clog boat motors, reduce fish populations and sometimes lead to the formation of low-oxygen "dead zones" where most aquatic life cannot survive.

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