Environmentalists call for more action against algae in Lake Erie

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

Experts in the U.S. have predicted severe algae for Lake Erie and have said more must be done in Canada to protect the Great Lake.

On Thursday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced its forecast for the lake’s upcoming algae bloom season. Forecasters have predicted an algae bloom severity level of 4.5, with the potential to reach 5.5 sometime this summer. While this forecast is lower than the 7.3 rating reached in 2019, water conservation enthusiasts said it is a reminder that more needs to be done on the Canadian side of the border.

According to NOAA’s algae bloom severity scale, a rating of 3.0 is ideal. The range runs from one to 10, with 10 being catastrophically severe.

In a joint media release from Environmental Defence, Freshwater Future, and the Canadian Freshwater Alliance, advocacy groups dedicated to protecting freshwater supplies, there could be serious economic consequences unless more action is taken, citing a 2019 study by Science Direct.

“Algal blooms could cost the Canadian Lake Erie basin economy upwards of $297 million per year,” read the release. The study also found that costs could hit $5.8 billion by 2050 if governments fail to intervene. On the other hand, investing in freshwater health by creating wetlands, planting trees, and implementing agricultural best practices can create jobs and support a green economic recovery.”

In June 2019, Ontario Premier Doug Ford agreed to meet a 40 per cent reduction of phosphorus into Lake Erie by 2025, plus a minimum phosphorus reduction target of 20 per cent this year. The agreement was also signed off on by Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Ohio Governor Mike DeWine. But Kristy Meyer, an associate director with Freshwater Future, said no one seems sure as to how much progress has been achieved.

“The Canadian federal and Ontario governments must develop a comprehensive implementation plan, put funding resources behind it, and work with the Ohio, Michigan, and the U.S. federal governments to develop a process for measuring water quality improvements to protect Ontario’s¬†economy and public health,” said Meyer.

The three advocacy groups said in comparison, Michigan and Ohio have started their domestic action plans to reduce the amount of phosphorus running off into the Lake Erie watershed.

Algae blooms have been commonplace in Lake Erie since the 1990s, which turn the water a bright turquoise colour. The most severe one was in the summer of 2011, but the algae bloom in 2014 resulted in a tap-water ban for over 400,000 people living in the Toledo, Ohio area.

NOAA’s algae bloom forecast can be found on its official website.