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The Great Lakes region is blessed with an abundance of water. But water quality, affordability, and aging water infrastructure are vulnerabilities that have been ignored for far too long. In this series, members of the Great Lakes News Collaborative, Michigan Public, Bridge Michigan, Great Lakes Now, The Narwhal, and Circle of Blue, explore what it might take to preserve and protect this precious resource. This independent journalism is supported by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.

Lake Erie harmful algal bloom expected to be smaller than average

Lake Erie turns a bright green as toxic cyanobacterial blooms across large portions of the lake's western basin.
Tom Archer
Michigan Sea Grant
Lake Erie turns a bright green as toxic cyanobacterial blooms across large portions of the lake's western basin.

Researchers are projecting the cyanobacterial bloom in the western basin of Lake Erie won’t be as bad as last year.

Last year’s severity index was at 6.8. Rick Stumpf with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says this year’s severity is expected to be around 3.

“And that’s a smaller than average bloom- we expect,” Stumpf said during an online press conference.

The highest severity index was 10.5 in 2015.

A lot of factors influence whether the harmful algal bloom is widespread or not. Some of the limiting factors this year were the lower amount of rain this spring and early summer as well as cooler temperatures. Less rain means less fertilizer was washed into the lake, feeding the cyanobacteria.

“While this year’s forecast is smaller than the long-term average, it was driven primarily by the lowest river flows in the past 10 years. We cannot just cross our fingers and hope that drier weather will keep us safe,” said University of Michigan aquatic ecologist Don Scavia in a statement. Scavia is a member of the forecast team.

The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) put out a press release warning that the smaller-than-average bloom forecast doesn’t mean the issue of agricultural fertilizer use is less.

“The region is not meeting pollution reduction goals to protect the drinking water, public health, jobs, and way of life for millions of people in the region,” said Gail Hesse, Great Lakes water program director for the NWF.

There will still be some cyanobacterial blooms this year and Stumpf warned, “Keep yourself, your kids, and your dog out of the scum-like blooms or anywhere the water looks green.”

The blooms can release a toxin that damages the liver which poses a risk to people or animals that come into contact with it. Stumpf said across the nation each year, several dogs die because of being exposed to the toxin microcystin that the blooms can produce.

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Public from 1998-2010.
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