Shared from the 7/12/2019 Sandusky Register eEdition

LAKE ERIE

Big bloom looms

Scientists say this year’s algal problem will be severe

Picture

Scientists Laura Johnson, left, and Rick Stumpf at Thursday’s algal bloom forecast announcement.

Register photo/ TOM JACKSON

PUT-IN-BAY

This year’s harmful algal bloom in Lake Erie likely will be a large, relatively severe bloom, although it probably won’t be as big as record blooms in 2015 and 2011, scientists predicted Thursday.

The bloom will be rated a 7.5, said Rick Stumpf, an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who announced the forecast Thursday at Stone Laboratory’s Aquatic Visitors Center near Put-in-Bay.

That’s compared with a 10.5 in 2015 and a much smaller bloom of 3.6 that occurred last year, Stumpf said. It likely will be somewhere between the large blooms of 2013 and 2017.

Although the bloom, unfortunately, is likely to be large, there’s no reason to panic. The bloom has hardly gotten started and likely won’t cover a large area until August.

“Much of the lake will be fine most of the time,” Stumpf said. Even when the bloom becomes bigger, “you can find places to boat on the lake where there is no bloom,” he said.

The scientists at the forecasting event said the direction of the wind when the bloom gets bigger will largely determine how it affects Ohio. Winds that blow from the south would push the bloom toward Canada, they said.

The forecasting event was the eighth in a row hosted by Stone Laboratory.

The event usually takes place in Stone Laboratory offices on Gibraltar Island, with participants taking a ferry to South Bass Island and then a boat to Gibraltar Island.

But with lake levels unusually high, Stone Lab didn’t think it would be safe to take people attending the forecast to Gibraltar Island, said Chris Winslow, executive director of Ohio Sea Grant and Stone Laboratory.

The main dock serving Stone Lab on Gibraltar Island is underwater, and getting people visiting the island on and off boats has been difficult, said Kristin Stanford, education and outreach coordinator for Stone Lab.

Lake Erie’s harmful algal bloom generates toxins. Although Thursday’s forecast predicts how large it will be, it doesn’t predict the level of toxicity. Obtaining a toxicity forecast is a work-in-progress.

A research study to produce a toxicity forecast is supposed to take three years and is now in its second year, said Justin Chaffin, research coordinator for Ohio Sea Grant and Stone Laboratory.

Chaffin said it’s known, however, that the amount of nitrogen in the water is very important. When nitrogen levels fall, toxicity falls.

The annual HAB forecast is largely based on the amount of phosphorus brought into the lake by tributaries such as the Maumee River.

Much of the work is monitoring runoff into western Lake Erie tributaries is done by Heidelberg University’s National Center for Water Quality Research.

Laura Johnson, the director of the center, gave a report on this year’s measurements and said she found encouraging news that suggests the harmful algal bloom problem can be substantially reduced.

Johnson noted that high rains produced a large amount of water going into the lake. But the amount of dissolved phosphorus in the water was 30 percent less than what would have been expected, given the large volume of water, Johnson said.

Probably much of the drop was because high rains prevented farmers from being able to plant crops and place fertilizer in many of their fields, Johnson said.

Those results suggest continued efforts to apply fertilizer and manure properly, putting in the amount needed by farmers for good crops but avoiding waste and unnecessary nutrient runoff, could have a real impact, she said.

“If it’s a placement issue, that means we can fix this,” she said. “I would say, if anything, that is really good news. We have a pathway forward.”

Ohio, Michigan and Canada have made a pact to reduce the amount of phosphorus going into Lake Erie by 40 percent. That won’t eliminate harmful algal blooms but will make them much smaller, Stumpf said.

Paul Pacholski, president of the Lake Erie Charter Boat Association, said a forecast for a 7.5 level of algal bloom is bad news for his group. Wave action that determines the location of the algal bloom will have a big effect, he said.

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