Politicians are under pressure to save Lake Erie

Lake Erie, July 28, 2015. (NASA Earth Observatory image by Joshua Stevens)

A significant algae bloom predicted for Lake Erie this summer has environmental groups urging upper levels of government to do more to protect the lake.

The three groups say the federal and Ontario governments need to work together to save the lake.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) is forecasting a significant algae bloom for Lake Erie this summer and the groups said it is a reminder that federal and provincial efforts to address runoff pollution into the lake have been “woefully inadequate”.

NOAA predicts this year’s bloom, forecasted to be 7.5 out of 10 on their index, will be much more severe than last summer. The groups added the severity could range from six to nine on the scale, and has the potential to be one of the worst blooms since 2015.

“This year’s forecast shows that Lake Erie’s algae problem is dire,” said Kelsey Scarfone, water programs manager with Environmental Defence. “We need governments to get serious about addressing phosphorus pollution if they want to prevent billions of dollars’ worth of damage caused by Lake Erie’s now annual algae blooms.”

The main cause of the blooms is phosphorus runoff from agricultural lands and the Ontario and federal governments, along with their U.S. counterparts, have made commitments to tackle algae blooms by reducing the amount of runoff pollution entering the lake.

The federal and provincial governments are looking for public feedback on a new draft agreement to protect the Great Lakes but the environmental groups said they are several months overdue in implementing their commitments in the Canada-Ontario Lake Erie Action Plan.

“Work plans to implement the Action Plan were due months ago, but they still haven’t been completed,” said Raj Gill, Great Lakes program director with the Canadian Freshwater Alliance. “We simply can’t afford these delays. At this rate, Ontario will fail to meet its pollution reduction commitments by the 2025 deadline, and it is putting incredible stress on Lake Erie.”

Algae blooms cause beach closures, kill fish, and add additional water treatment costs.

According to a recent study, if action isn’t taken to solve this problem, algae blooms could cost the Lake Erie basin economy upwards of $297 million per year. The study also found that costs could hit $5.8 billion by 2050 if governments fail to intervene.

“It is clear that we need to be moving swiftly to address the algae blooms plaguing Lake Erie,” said Jill Ryan, executive director of Freshwater Future Canada. “Ontario and Canada must step up to the plate and release their work plan to combat this increasingly severe threat to our drinking water, tourism and recreation, and the Lake Erie ecosystem.”