Q&A: What the algae bloom prediction means for Lake Erie


TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — Late summer on western Lake Erie means boating, fishing and unsightly algae, at least in recent years.

Researchers are forecasting that this season’s harmful algae bloom will be less severe than those over the past few years.

Some questions and answers about what is means for visitors to the lake and residents who depend on it for drinking water:

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WHY WILL THIS YEAR’S ALGAE BLOOM BE SMALLER?

Less rain during the spring and early summer months adds up to less phosphorus from farms and sewage treatment plants flowing into the lake and fueling the harmful algae.

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DOES THAT MEAN WE HAVE LESS TO WORRY ABOUT?

It’s not certain. While the forecast calls for an algae bloom of moderate size, there still are some unknowns out there. If heavy storms hit over the next month, that could change the outlook a bit.

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DOES A SMALLER BLOOM REDUCE THE THREAT TO DRINKING?

Not necessarily. There are other factors, with winds and currents playing critical roles. Strong winds that push the algae along the coast where cities draw their drinking water can turn a small bloom into a big problem. The algae bloom that contaminated Toledo’s water supply two years ago was moderate in size but settled right over the city’s water intake, leaving more than 400,000 people unable to drink tap water for two days. Last year’s record-breaking bloom mainly stayed in the lake’s open waters. It didn’t prompt a do-not-drink order.

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WHEN WILL THE ALGAE BE NOTICEABLE?

Patches of algae already are being detected in the western end of the lake in Sandusky Bay, but the blooms don’t typically peak until the middle of August through the end of September. Researchers say that toxins detected this past week toward Toledo and southeastern Michigan are still below the levels that would trigger a warning for swimmers.

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WITH SO MANY STATES SEEING ALGAE BLOOMS THIS SUMMER, IS THERE A CONNECTION?

Some scientists say climate change is the underlying factor. Just within the past months, blooms have closed a large freshwater lake in Utah and fouled Florida’s southern beaches and rivers. But there are other factors at work, which makes it difficult to connect the outbreaks to just one cause.

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