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Heavy rain heightens Lake Erie algae worries

May. 16, 2013 @ 12:19 PM

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Officials are concerned that the wet Ohio spring will again bring toxic algae problems back to Lake Erie.

Heavy rain this year in northwestern Ohio has nearly doubled the average amount of phosphorus that washes off farm fields each spring and flows down the Maumee River to Lake Erie. Phosphorous, found in fertilizers, helps blue-green algae grow. The blooms kill fish populations, stink up beaches and put a dent in the lakefront’s $10 billion-a-year sportfishing and tourism industries.

Jeffrey Reutter, director of the Ohio Sea Grant Program, shared the data with state lawmakers in Columbus on Wednesday. He said the heavy rain doesn’t necessarily mean a large toxic algae bloom will spread across the lake like in the summer of 2011.

“It’s still too soon to make a prediction,” said Reutter, who also leads Ohio State University’s Stone Laboratory on Lake Erie. “We could still have a good year if the rain is less over the next two months.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration plans to make an official algae forecast on July 2, about a month before algae typically appear in the lake.

The Columbus Dispatch reports that researchers from Heidelberg University tracked about 210 tons of dissolved phosphorus in the Maumee from March through April 29. About 120 tons would be considered typical.

In 2011, 473 tons of phosphorus ran into the Maumee and helped stain Lake Erie with algae from Toledo to Cleveland.

Toxic algae are common in most Ohio lakes but can grow thick from phosphorus in the summer months. The blooms can lead to oxygen-depleted dead zones where nothing can live. It also can sicken swimmers, and kill pets and wildlife.

The International Joint Commission, which advises the U.S. and Canada on issues affecting shared waterways, said this week that a decades-old effort to nurse the battered Great Lakes to health has made progress toward reducing toxic pollution.

Levels of some toxins have dropped, although the rate of decline has slowed and new chemicals have turned up, the commission said. Algae blooms were reduced dramatically, only to stage a frustrating comeback in recent years.