Summer is here and that means it’s toxic algae season for Lake Erie. Harmful algae blooms have been making the lake green around the gills for the past several years. Last August, the cyanobacteria even contaminated Toledo's drinking water, leaving more than 400,000 people high and dry for two days.
And well, scientists from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association say this summer will be another doozy. The agency’s seasonal forecast predicts that 2015 could be the second-worst year on record after 2011’s whopper. The bloom is likely to hit 8.7 out of 10 on the severity index, with a possible range between 8.1 and 9.5. (FYI, anything above 5 is considered particularly concerning.)
The blooms happen when heavy rains wash runoff from fertilizer, manure, and sewage into waterways. All that phosphorus has a Popeye-like effect on the algae, which reproduces rapidly, producing toxins that threaten swimmers. And when the bloom begins to decompose, it can suck the oxygen out of the water, killing aquatic life. Dead zones are no day at the beach, but we know how to help prevent them: Take it easy on the bloomin’ fertilizer already!
onEarth provides reporting and analysis about environmental science, policy, and culture. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. Learn more or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
Ugly, foul-smelling and sometimes toxic, algal blooms are becoming more common in freshwater ecosystems like rivers, lakes, ponds, and reservoirs. Here’s a look at how excess algae can impact the environment—and human health.