Local fertilizer runoff causes the algae growth that’s impacted the lake’s tourism profits year after year, highlighting the interconnection of agriculture, health, and tourism economies in one small ecosystem.
Experts are predicting the toxic blue-green algae outbreak in the western basin of Lake Erie this summer will be more significant than last year but much smaller than the bloom that blanketed about two-thirds of the lake two summers ago.
The forecast predicts a “significant bloom” in that part of the lake will begin in August. But it’s expected to be about one-fifth the size of the 2011 bloom that hampered tourism and drew headlines as one of the worst on record.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which bases its algae forecast in large part on the amount of rain that falls on farms in Erie’s drainage basin, presented the forecast Tuesday at Ohio State University’s Stone Laboratory on Gibraltar Island, near Put-in-Bay. In Ohio, the drainage basin includes the Maumee and Sandusky rivers.
“People will notice there’s a bloom in some areas,” said Rick Stumpf, NOAA’s algae modeler and forecaster. “You need to at least plan to work around this.”
The algae growth is fed by phosphorous from fertilizer runoff and other sources, producing bacteria that can kill animals and sicken humans.
The forecast from state and federal experts for Lake Erie’s recurring summer algae problems calls for a bloom that could cover 300 square miles across the lake’s western basin.
That’s nearly twice as large as last summer’s bloom but about one-fifth the size of the bloom that covered 1,600 square miles from Toledo to Cleveland in 2011.
The algae produce liver and nerve toxins that can not only sicken people and kill pets and wildlife but also take a bite out of the lake’s annual $11.5 billion annual tourism industry. Algae also help create an oxygen-depleted zone in the center of the lake where fish can’t survive.
Melinda Huntley, executive director of the Ohio Travel Association, said lake-based tourism and recreation supports 117,000 full-time jobs, or 9.8 percent of the employment in eight counties.
“What’s at risk is a huge economic engine,” Huntley said.
A voluntary plan encourages farmers to limit fertilizer use. Larry Antosch, environmental policy director for the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, said farmers are getting the message that they need to reduce phosphorus pollution.
The problem has led officials to consider tougher rules on agriculture for years.
Copyright (2013) Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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Photo credit: Algae surround a lone fishing chair on Lake Erie near Norfolk County, Ontario. Sylvia Schade / Flickr