By Steven Maier
Dean Thompson is not a fan of algal blooms.
“It’s a terrible thing that we’re doing to our lake, and we really need to be more aware of what’s going on,” he said.
In September, in conjunction with an event organized by the National Wildlife Federation, Thompson took a group of students, environmentalists and reporters out on Maumee Bay, Lake Erie, to show off the blooms firsthand.
It was a cloudless morning. As the sun rose, the algae collected. Over the course of 30 minutes, floating specks on the water’s surface gathered to paint thick streaks of green across the bay.
Thompson, the owner and operator of Reel Fun Charters, based in Toledo, has fished Maumee Bay and other parts of Lake Erie for 35 years. This has been one of the worst years for business, he said.
“Our business is down for the fall, fishing’s probably down 40 percent,” he said. “I’ve had people call me up and say, ‘Well, we heard all the bad publicity about the lake not being safe to drink, and so we’re not coming.’”
The algae is the result of high levels of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus pouring in from sources like wastewater treatment plants, manure and home sewage systems.
Northwestern Ohio saw three separate instances of fish die-offs in creeks and streams in the month of August. Officials estimate that 66,000 fish died that month, killed by manure runoff from local farms.
The beach at Maumee State Park was empty this Memorial Day, Thompson said. The tourism industry is reeling, and the rest of the area feels the effects of that.
Those who do visit the beach are greeted by a sign discouraging swimming. They warn of the bacteria spurred on by the blooms.
Western Lake Erie, renowned for its fishing, is still hanging on, Thompson said. The perch are biting this fall, and anglers still catch large amounts of walleye–though many are disappointingly small.
Government officials are fighting back, mostly by limiting the algae-powering phosphorus coming from farm runoff. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs are both creating phosphorus-reduction plans.
Their goal is to reduce the phosphorus in Lake Erie by 4.9 million pounds in the next nine years. An estimated 2.4 million pounds have been cut since 2008. ee