Algal Blooms – Problems Indentified?

Posted by on Aug 20, 2014 in Blog |

Harmful Algal Blooms

The recent Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) in Lake Erie is receiving much attention and rightfully so.  The public wake-up call occurred recently when nearly a half million people around Toledo, Ohio, were unable to use their public water supply for several days.

This may not be just a one-time inconvenience.  According to Tim Davis, an algae specialist with the NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab, “The 2014 bloom is not necessarily larger or more intense than any other recent year; it has simply had a more direct human impact because of its location in Maumee Bay.”  Part of the problem is attributed to northerly winds that pushed the HAB to Toledo’s water intake.

Cause of HABs

What causes these HABs?  A recent report in Great Lakes Now suggests the bad actor is dissolved phosphorus.  And where does dissolved phosphorus come from?  According to Dr. Jeffrey Reutter, Director of Ohio State University’s Sea Grant Program, “…the one (source) that contributes the most or puts in the largest portion of the load is agricultural runoff…so we are trying to not apply more than (is) needed and (to) modify the way they apply fertilizer, we think pretty much those two things together will solve the problem.”

It’s not so simple, says Dr. Patrick Doran, Michigan Director of the Nature Conservancy.  He points out that the problem is complex and involves other factors, such as invasive species (such as zebra mussels) that have created much clearer waters in the Great Lakes.  This clearer water, in turn, allows sunlight to penetrate deeper into the water column, creating a better environment for photosynthesis and subsequent algal growth.

Tim Davis agrees.  He pointed out that nitrogen is the other nutrient that we need to be concerned about.  Dr. Michael Sklash, Dragun Corporation, recently conducted a helpful webinar on assessment of nitrogen run-off for National Milk Producers Federation.  See our July 18, 2014, blog for details.

Finally, according to Dr. Reutter, we may not have seen the worst blooms or the end of the blooms yet.  He noted that the blooms will reach their peak in September.

Recall in our March 21, 2014, blog that we reported the International Joint Commission (IJC) had recently issued a report on the HAB issue in Lake Erie.  The IJC looked at ways to reduce HABs and phosphorus loading.  The IJC provided suggestions including the use of Best Management Practices at farms, addressing urban runoff, and restoring coastal wetlands.

So. . . who or what is to blame for HABs?  As you can imagine, it’s very complex, and there are no easy answers.  But with the recent passage of the “Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act of 2014,” expect more research dollars to be spent on understanding the cause(s) of this “growing” problem.

While we are fully supportive of finding a solution to this issue, we caution anyone (farm, municipality, or other) not to commit to an order or request regarding HABs by a state or federal regulator without legal and technical advice.

For more information about HABs, or if you need assistance with a technical/regulatory issue, contact me ( at 248-932-0228, ext. 134.