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Lake Erie harmful algal bloom is expected to be smaller and less severe in 2020

The Plain Dealer  Cleveland logo The Plain Dealer Cleveland 5/27/2020 By Laura Johnston, cleveland.com

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Scientists predict the harmful algal bloom in western Lake Erie this summer will be worse than in 2018, but not as severe as last year.

The early forecast predicts the bloom will be smaller, with a severity between 3 and 5 on a 1-10 scale.

The blue-green toxic algae is an annual problem in Lake Erie, from Toledo to the islands. The algae turns fresh water into pea soup, with thick mats of scum that can close beaches, wreck tourist fishing and contaminate drinking water, as it did in Toledo in 2014. The worst blooms in the last decade have been 2011 and 2015.

Last year’s bloom was rated a 7.3 -- twice as severe as 2018 (a 3.6) and slightly less than in 2017 (8).

The severity of the bloom depends on the amount of phosphorus that flows from the Maumee River into the lake between March and July. More rain -- and heavier storms -- in Northeast Indiana, Southeast Michigan and Northwest Ohio and how much manure and fertilizer runs into the river determines how bad the bloom will be. Warm weather and less wind makes the bloom bigger, though not necessarily more toxic.

Related: Ohio cities want pig manure treated like human waste to protect Lake Erie from harmful algal blooms

The reason for a less severe prediction is primarily because of a fairly dry spring so far, said Chris Winslow, director of Ohio Sea Grant. But he’s optimistic that some programs to reduce phosphorus are working. .

“There’s no way to tease out right now what is lower because of rain and what is lower because of farm activity,” Winslow said.

The forecast will be updated weekly until July 9, based on rainfall and phosphorus measures.

“There is still uncertainty in the projected maximum severity because of uncertainties in the bloom models and forecasted amount of rainfall,” writes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Gov. Mike DeWine aims to reduce phosphorus runoff with a $172 million H2Ohio plan.

Nearly 2,000 farmers by April submitted applications to enroll more than 1.1 million acres in conservation practices to reduce phosphorus flowing into the Maumee, exceeding expectations. Winslow said environmentalists are waiting to see what’s in that state’s next biennial budget.

For more Lake Erie news, follow RocktheLake on Facebook.

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