Scientists say there is big trouble growing in Lake Erie. In fact, warnings at Maumee Bay State Park have been strengthened after record setting algae blooms were found. Researchers say the algae bloom in the western basin of the lake is the worst on record since they began tracking the blooms about ten years ago, but they say there is a way to reverse the alarming trend.
It wasn't long ago that you had to be out in the lake before you could actually see the algae bloom in the western basin of Lake Erie. Now its washing up on the beaches at the state park.
Dr. Tom Bridgeman is an assistant professor of Ecology in the Department of Environmental Sciences at the University of Toledo," If you went out in July, you would not have seen the bloom until you were a few miles off shore, but it's been spreading and now it's everywhere."
Researchers say tests here at Maumee Bay State Park found high levels of a liver toxin in the water. The concentrations were twice as high as a safety standard set for swimmers by the World Health Organization.
The warnings posted on the beaches originally advised you not to touch the algae or swallow the water. Now they have been upgraded to tell people not to swim or even wade in the water. Dr. Bridgeman says the blooms are mainly caused by fertilizers used on farm fields and Bridgeman says the fields can be quite a distance from the lake, "There's a big connection between the watershed and the lake. You may live 100 miles from the lake, but what you do to the watershed 100 miles away can hurt Lake Erie."
While the posted warnings at Maumee Bay State Park spell out the threat to your health if you wade or swim in the water, but the algae bloom also threatens Ohio's multi-billion dollar tourism industry, "If Lake Erie gets the reputation of being polluted and in sorry shape like it was in the 1960's and 1970's then people are going to stop coming here and that's bad for everyone."
The question is can we fix the problem? Dr. Bridgeman says the answer is yes, "We can reverse it. I don't know that it will be simple, it may involve big changes to our agricultural practices. It has to be done in connection with the watersheds which are largely agricultural but that is probably where the solution is going to be."
Since it's not safe to swim in the water let alone swallow it,what does the algae bloom do to tap water? Dr. Bridgeman says water utilities do an excellent job of filtering out the toxins.
And just to put this bloom in perspective, testing by University of Toledo researchers found this year's algae bloom is already 2.5 times bigger than the previous record bloom of 2009.