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Mother Nature gives Lake Erie lovers a break from cyanobacteria

Sunset over Lake Erie

The drought this summer may not have been good for your lawn.

But it was good for reducing the blooms of green slime known as cyanobacteria in Lake Erie.

"The low bloom we're seeing right now is just because Mother Nature threw us a dry year," says Chris Winslow, Interim Director of the Ohio Sea Grant. "Definitely the problem's not solved."

The problem is phosphorus, a component of fertilizer used on farmland throughout the water basins of Lake Erie. In a normal year, rains flush the phosphorus from farmland into the lake, and cyanobacteria loves phosphorus.

Winslow says he expected this year's forecast for a low cyanobacteria level to hold true, despite a recent two-day period of heavy rain.

"You might see a minor uptick in the growth that was predicted," says Winslow, "but nothing that's going to drastically change the forecast. So I don't anticipate seeing a large bloom because of the recent rains."

Winslow says the only part of Lake Erie that has a large growth of cyanobacteria is in Maumee Bay. 

Charter boat captains are reporting good water clarity elsewhere.

"There's an instrument called a Secchi disk that we've trained the charter captains how to use," says Winslow. "They can measure how far the light is going into the water, and we're seeing measurements for those that are much deeper than we've had in previous years."

Winslow says he's glad things are better this year for boaters, swimmers and fisherman, but he hopes people don't forget that Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, and Ontario all have a lot of work to do to keep phosphorus on the land, and out of the water.

The states and province of Ontario have agreed to reduce phosphorus loads by 40% compared to 2008 levels.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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