Lake Erie harmful algal blooms forecasted to be smaller this year | Michigan Radio
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Lake Erie harmful algal blooms forecasted to be smaller this year

May 28, 2021

The cyanobacterial bloom in western Lake Erie in 2019.
Credit NOAA, Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory

Researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL) are forecasting the cyanobacterial bloom in western Lake Erie is likely to be smaller than average this year. But, it’s early in the season and things could change.

At this point, less precipitation in the Maumee River watershed has reduced the amount of nutrients that are washed into the western basin of Lake Erie. Those nutrients encourage cyanobacterial blooms. A series of storms could change that. In June, NOAA expects a return to normal rainfall.

Above average temperatures could also make a difference.

“Cyanobacteria in particularly, they like it hot. So, as the temperature warms within the lake, so, it’s not just air temperature, it’s also water temperature, cyanobacteria tend to do better than the other species within the system,” said Reagan Errera, a research ecologist with GLERL.

The U.S. and Canadian governments as well as Michigan and Ohio are encouraging farmers to voluntarily reduce the amount of fertilizers and manure from livestock farms they put on fields. They also are encouraging farmers to plant grass buffer strips between cropland and waterways to filter out the nutrients. The goal is a 40% reduction. That’s not happening.

Former Director of the Ohio Sea Grant, Jeff Reutter, says with the increase in the number of livestock farms in the Maumee River watershed, he’s not expecting the flow of nutrients to be reduced enough or at all.

Another factor that researchers at GLERL have to consider in the forecast is climate change. The climate that’s warming up Lake Erie has other impacts.

“That warmer air temperature also leads to increased precipitation in the area, which then leads to the increased runoff, which brings more nutrients into the system, which then end up in the western basin,” Errera said.

The forecast is about the area that’s affected by cyanobacterial blooms. The toxicity of the blooms is another issue and won’t be known until the harmful algal blooms appear.