Big algal bloom expected; may not have fuel some expected

PUT-IN-BAY, Ohio (WTVG) - Some good news for the 2019 algal bloom in Lake Erie. It's already predicted to be a big one but Thursday we learned it might not have all the fuel many were expecting.

The worry for some in 2019 is that with all the rain we've seen, we would see a lot of nutrients, like phosphorus, running off fields and running into the rivers, stream and eventually into Lake Erie making for a huge bloom and potentially a toxic bloom. It turns out that’s the case this year.

All the science, research and predictions bring this year's algal bloom to a 7.5. On a scale of 1-10, that's the projected severity. It’s expected to be bigger than last year but it's not clear yet how toxic it will be.

Some expected it to be worse because of our rainy spring bringing more nutrients into the water.

“There’s still a lot there it's just lower than what we would have expected based on how much water that we actually saw come out of the Maumee River,” said Laura Johnson, PhD, of Heidelberg University.

Why? One idea is that with the wet spring and planting issues last fall, less fertilizer may have been applied. That’s something Dr. Johnson heard from those in the farming community.

“They're like 'Hey none of us are out here planting none of us got any fertilizer. What are you seeing in the water?' Well it's actually kinda low," said Dr. Johnson.

Is the bloom going away anytime soon? No. But in the 5 years since Toledo's water crisis, there are more people concerned about it than ever.

“When this forecast first started in 2012 no one really paid attention to harmful algal blooms except the scientists," said Justin Chaffin, PhD, senior researcher at Stone Lab.

Researchers believe this year shows swift change can happen. Especially if everyone can work to reduce phosphorus discharge by 40%.

"2011: second worst bloom on record. 2012: a drought. So we got a 40% reduction in phosphorus and the bloom went away overnight. 2015: worst bloom on record. 2016: drought, bloom went away overnight. So what it tells us if we hit that number that scientists are telling you to hit, Lake Erie fixes itself overnight," said Chris Winslow, PhD, of Ohio Sea Grant.

Here's something else to watch. Water coming from the Detroit River does not have nearly the nutrients that water has coming from our rivers. If they mix together in Lake Erie that could decrease the size and the severity of this year's bloom.