Researchers predict smaller algae bloom for Lake Erie

Jim Lynch
The Detroit News

This summer’s algae bloom in the western end of Lake Erie is expected to be less of a problem than in 2015, according to researchers.

University of Michigan and U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists are predicting a smaller bloom in the lake during July and August, when algae is of greatest concern. In early August 2014, toxic algae made its way into the drinking water system of Toledo, forcing roughly 500,000 residents there and in Southeast Michigan to use bottled water for three days.

Algae is created when nutrients — in the form of fertilizers and sewage discharges — are washed into streams and rivers during heavy rainfalls. In this region, much of the rainfall can eventually be carried to Lake Erie. In the lake’s shallow western end, nutrients that settle on the bottom can react to sunlight and form algae. In some cases, the algae created is toxic.

Recent years have seen higher levels of rainfall. But researchers expect the bloom to materialize in late July and grow through part of August but be smaller than last year due, in part, to 2016 precipitation levels.

“With a return to average spring discharge, and much lower river flow in June than in the recent years, the western basin should look better,” said Richard Stumpf, NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science. “However, the phosphorus inputs to the lake are still high enough to support bloom development.”

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