It’s only a matter of time before Lake Erie begins to turn a too familiar shade of green. It’s summer, after all, and outbreaks of algae have become an annual occurrence.
But unlike past years, when blooming algae has turned toxic and prompted health warnings and jeopardized municipal water supplies, there is reason for optimism.
This summer’s algae levels are expected to be a 5 or 6 on a new 1-10 scale developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The NOAA predicted last week there will be significant amounts of toxic algae, especially toward the western basin of Lake Erie, but less than last year, which would have ranked an “8,” and well below the record-setting “10” reached in 2011.
The new scale will allow researchers to better understand trends and patterns that arise each year with algae growth and help make those who live and work along the lake, and those who visit it to swim, fish and boat, more aware of the algae threat.
Millions of tourism dollars are at stake when Lake Erie is sick, but the better-than-expected forecast suggests the problem is getting the attention it deserves.
While it’s too soon to claim victory, we may have turned the corner. Time will tell.
A huge step occurred earlier this year when the Legislature approved a crop nutrient bill which will help reduce the phosphorus runoff from farms.
Although ag runoff is just one of many sources of phosphorus, it is a significant one, and will be monitored to a greater extent in the future as the law unfolds.
Sponsored by Sen. Cliff Hite, R-Findlay, it requires farmers who apply fertilizer to 50 acres or more to attend state-developed certification courses. It also provides an incentive for farmers by offering legal protections for those who develop state nutrient-management plans and keep accurate records.
More may be needed to be done regarding the handling of manure on farm fields, but passage of the bill was critical because it got farmers working toward a solution.
More recently, President Obama signed into law the Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act of 2013. That legislation, authored by Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., reauthorized a program that has served as the federal government’s research and response framework for harmful algal blooms.
Portman was able to negotiate a new Great Lakes section for the program that will ensure federal agencies prioritize monitoring and mitigation efforts on freshwater bodies such as Lake Erie.
New laws and programs, of course, won’t bring algae under control overnight. Additional buy-in will be needed by municipalities who continue to dump raw sewage into waterways, and even property owners who treat their lawns with fertilizers loaded with phosphorus.
Certainly, solving the algae problem will take a team effort.
But the game plan seems to be in place and state and federal support is there. Now, we just need to stay on task and finish the job.
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