By Gary Wilson
This story originally appeared on Great Lakes Now and is republished here with permission.
Lake Erie scientists are forecasting an algae bloom this summer that will be in the “significant” range, but expect it to be smaller than the 2017 bloom and nowhere near the record 2011 and 2015 algae events.
Ohio State’s Chris Winslow told Great Lakes Now that variables come into play so he couldn’t say “we are out the woods” for the impact of the 2018 algae bloom, even though it’s estimated to be at the lower end of the “significant” range.
Winslow said the numerical score of “6” on the severity index addresses the expected size of the bloom, but it can’t predict where it will be in the lake. That’s dependent on the wind, according to Winslow.
Winslow directs the Ohio Sea Grant Program and he led the algae forecast presentation by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and a collaboration of regional scientists.
The presentation took place at Ohio State’s Stone Lab on Gibraltar Island in Lake Erie.
The annual forecast event was attended by researchers, Ohio agency and elected officials, representatives of the Lake Erie Charter Boat Association and agricultural interests.
NOAA Oceanographer Richard Stumpf commenting on the early start of this year’s bloom told attendees that the “early start does not change the forecast severity, because the bloom is determined by the amount of phosphorus that goes into the water.”
NOAA scientists said in a statement the size of the bloom “is not necessarily an indication of how toxic it is. The toxins in a large bloom may not be as concentrated as in a smaller bloom.”
The agency is developing tools to predict how toxic blooms will be.
NOAA’s forecast followed by a day Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s announcement of an executive order designed to reduce nutrient runoff from agriculture operations that send phosphorous to the lake.
In a press release Kasich said “it’s clear that more aggressive action is needed, especially to reduce or eliminate the algae blooms that have marred the western basin for years. This executive order is intended to kick those efforts into overdrive.”
Kasich is in his last months in office based on term-limits.
Kasich and Ohio legislators have been considering tighter restrictions on farmers since the 2014 algae bloom caused Toledo to be without drinking water for three days. Farmers have steadfastly resisted regulations saying the voluntary actions they employ are making progress in reducing runoff.
Charter boat Captain Paul Pacholski attended the presentation and he told Great Lakes Now that Kasich’s order “is a good step forward” as it targets the watersheds that are most filled with pollutants. But he said past reliance on voluntary action by farmers following the Toledo crisis setback a chance of progress by four years.
Pacholski is President of the Lake Erie Charter Boat Association.
Pacholski expressed frustration primarily with Ohio legislators saying that he has been “working with legislators for five or six years now and they have been unwilling to act.”
He says that his clients monitor algae bloom forecasts and his business was off by 25 percent in 2017 and it could be worse in 2018.
Don Scavia said in a statement that “until the phosphorus inputs from agriculture are reduced significantly and consistently so only the mildest blooms occur, the people, ecosystem and economy of this region are being threatened.”
Scavia is a University of Michigan aquatic ecologist and a member of the algae forecast team.
Since 2008, the Lake Erie algae severity index score has been in the “mild” range only twice.