Algae Blooms in Lake Erie Bring Back Bad Memories

Lyngbya wollei, south shore Maumee Bay in Ohio, September 23, 2009.


Lake Erie, declared dead by the news media in the 1960s because of widespread, repulsive algae blooms, is once again marred, this time by both old and new causes. Some scientists and lake advocates worry that the unsightly algae is a warning of a lake once again in decline.

Tom Bridgeman, a lake scientist with the University of Toledo’s Lake Erie Center, said, “I’ve never seen the water as green as it was this year — and it’s not showing any signs of dying off yet. This is a growing problem.” Increased phosphorus runoff from farms and city streets, coupled with the feeding and excretion habits of non-native mussels introduced through ballast water, is believed to be associated with the resurgent blooms.

The western end of the lake has suffered from a surge in microsystis algae this summer. Bridgeman hypothesizes that in addition to phosphorus, underwater sediment shifts are culpable.

A related problem is particularly acute in the western end of the lake.  The previously unseen lyngbya wollei, which forms in stringy mats, was first noted in 2006. Called “a blue-green Godzilla” in southern U.S. waters, the cyanobacterium has inspired increasing research there.

It became a major nuisance in Maumee Bay in 2007, and remains troubling despite a smaller presence the last two summers, says Sandy Bihn of the citizens’ group Western Lake Waterkeeper Association.

Says Bihn says of the algae:  “The problem here is as serious in the 60s and 70s — will the national headline be a fish kill,  the drinking water is unfit, or what? The algae’s very serious and all we do is study and take no interim measures to reduce it.”

The smallest of the five North American Great Lakes in volume, Erie is also shallow, making it more vulnerable to underwater plant growth and algae. Government controls of phosphorus content in laundry detergent contributed to significant reductions in algae blooms in the 1970s and 1980s.

Photo credit:  Sandy Bihn, Western Lake Erie Waterkeeper Association.

3 thoughts on “Algae Blooms in Lake Erie Bring Back Bad Memories”

  1. Dear Sir, Having read dialog from discussion by the house of representatives the day before h.r.3619 passed, it is a bad day for our country when they describe how ballast water was omitted from this bill because they were cognizant, that in the previous Congress the Senate was not able to address ballast water. Scientist know that new microbes will be released from Arctic ice melting and from mining and exploration in the deep Sea Bed, along with the new technologies able to create designer algae s capable of acting as hosts to pathogens and virus. Still our politicians do not mention this as a human health problem. It has been reported that the Senate is going to address the Law of the Sea Treaty soon. To not address these issues before they consider ratification will be locking our country in an agreement that will not protect our health and environment from destruction, but will allow for economic globalization to continue.
    FROM the web site of the house- ” Last year, I worked closely with Chairman Oberstar to include a title on Ballast Water Management in the Coast Guard bill, which would have created a uniform national standard for ballast water treatment. The goal was to have no living organisms in ballast water discharged by ships after 2013.
    Although I would have liked this bill to once again include a provision on ballast water management, I am cognizant that this provision may be one of the reasons this bill has been held up in the Senate.”

    Please let the Coast Guard know that although we are happy with their interest in ballast dumping, not to portray their forum as being representative of what the American people want. The will of the American people can only be expressed in our democracy through legislative efforts by our elected officials.
    Don Mitchel

  2. Dear Sirs,

    If the Senate did not enact legislation to address a national policy on ballast dumping (passed by the largest elected legislative voice of the people) because they believe pathogens being spread by this method (that can make all Americans sick) is a states rights issue, our only alternative will be the Coast Guard using military power and regulations that may not reflect the decisions and wish’s Americans already have expressed by our elected officials to govern the economic use of our waters. Please let the Coast Guard know that the American people have already spoken through H.R.2830

    Don Mitchel

    Dear President Obama,
    Knowing, that as you and Congress work toward procuring a better way to protect Americans health and rights to good care, and that it will be votes in Congress that decide, I have a question to ask. If a way is known that, pathogens and virus can be spread, that will hurt Americans rights to good health, would Congress also vote when legislation was crafted, to try and protect their health? Why was legislation (that passed the largest elected legislative voice of people) to protect all Americans, from bacterial pathogens and virus released from ballast water considered a states rights issue in the last Congress when you were a Senator?

    Respectfully and Sincerely,
    Don Mitchel

    Dear madam Speaker,
    Rep Oberstar is about to work with H.R.3619 to again address the issue of ballast water. With the House of Representatives, the largest, elected, legislative, branch of our government, already, overwhelmingly approving strong legislation, that the Senate did not want to enact, for fear, “of over ridding states rights issues”, the question should be, Will any new legislation, with any lower standards or goals, be fostering a compromise to those who wish to put states rights over a stronger bill, or delay a strong time line, (capable of acting as a loophole for shipping), or those believing that exemptions should be allowed for vessels on our Fresh water Great Lakes (where human pathogens and virus could spread easier without any salt water and technology)? As new shipping routes are established in the Arctic where diluted salinity and future mining and exploration rights in the Deep Sea Bed will release new microbes, a strong national policy by our enacted by our congress, (at least as strong as the one passed by the house), would set world precedent, we do not need to delay change in the current policy of dilution being the solution to pollution.

    Don Mitchel

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