Weekend algae bloom in Lake Erie a black eye for ag

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National reports about a blue-green algae bloom in Lake Erie during the weekend were giving agriculture a black eye. The national media was blaming farmers’ fertilizer runoff 100 percent for the algae bloom that resulted in the city of Toledo, Ohio, shutting off its water supply to the city’s 500,000 residents.

The drinking water ban lasted for 48 hours and was lifted Monday. The blue-green algae bloom was one of the worst compared to other algae blooms that have been occurring annually since the 1990s—or at least was worse at the point of water intake for a city.

The “ABC Good Morning America” reporter suggested the water near Toledo looked like green paint and said it was an extreme health risk.

The algae is known to produce cyanotoxins, and there are different strains. This strain was reported to be microcystin, which can cause vomiting, diarrhea or harm to the liver. Boiling of algae infected water doesn’t make it safe, and chlorination isn’t a solution either.  Therefore, the National Guard provided bulk water for bathing and household use, and bottled water was distributed for drinking in Toledo.

According to environmental groups, algae blooms are an increasing problem across the country. Most of the blame is put on excess fertilizers washing off farm fields although those most familiar with the situation also know that fertilizers from lawns are a portion of the problem, too.

As reported in recent articles posted on AgProfessional.com and in AgProfessional magazine, Ohio organizations, including farm organizations, are trying to alleviate the problem through the 4R Nutrient Management program for fertilizer application. Lake Erie is the shallowest of the Great Lakes and is particularly susceptible to these types of algae blooms.

The lake also has a major problem with zebra mussels that have infiltrated the lake, and some research suggests the mussels are contributing to the blue-green algae bloom in various ways. One way some researchers are suggesting is that the mussels feed on native algae leaving the blue-green algae to multiply without hindrance.

An Environmental Protection Agency spokesperson was quoted as suggesting that these types of algae outbreaks related to environmental conditions will ultimately “force EPA and the states to look much harder at regulations.”

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