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Lake Erie algal bloom expected to be worse than last year's

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The waters on the Western basin of Lake Erie will have more harmful algal blooms this year, according to a report released by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.

The bloom is expected to measure 7.5 on a 1-to-10 severity index. Last year the bloom was at 3.6, and the worst years for the algae were in 2011 and 2015.

Jill Lis, director of environmental health, emergency preparedness and epidemiology at Lorain County Public Health, said the blooms historically are a bigger issue on western side of Lake Erie.

Harmful algal blooms occur when there is a shallow body of water, warm temperatures, sunlight and excessive amounts of phosphorus and nitrogen in the water.

Lis said the water in the central basin is deeper and there are systems in place to monitor the water and algal blooms.

The algae can be capable of producing the liver toxin microcystin, which can be a risk to human and wildlife health.

Todd Danielson, chief utilities executive at Avon Lake Regional Water, said the 7.5 index was much better than he had expected.

The rain usually will wash phosphorus out of the fields and into the lake, which helps cause algal blooms, so Danielson expected a higher number. He said the 7.5 rating is on par with recent years.

But the amount of rainfall this year has caused the lake to rise to record levels and it’s diluting the phosphorus and nitrogen in the water.

The phosphorus numbers also are lower this year due to farmers who have been unable to plant their fields due to the wetness.

“This spring brought regular, heavy rainfall to the Maumee River watershed, which would normally carry a lot of nutrients into the lake,” Richard Stumpf, NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science’s lead scientist for the seasonal Lake Erie bloom forecast, said in a news release. “However, due to the amount of rain this year, farmers were unable to plant their fields, which reduced the nutrient concentration.”

Danielson said they are prepared for any algal blooms they get in the water because Avon Lake Regional Water is always prepared for the worst to happen.

“Our job is to provide safe water,” he said. “We are all prepared for whatever we get.”

As of now, Lis said there hasn’t been evidence of an algal bloom in Lorain County, but that they are always on the lookout for it.

“People are very passionate about Lake Erie and the water quality,” Lis said. “The last thing we want in the water is an algae bloom.”

The winds often come from the west, so it’s also possible that heavy winds could send an algal bloom from the western basin to the central.

The algal bloom season usually begins in July and ends in early fall. Lis said that later in the summer, the blooms become more apparent. The blooms can appear until the lake cools down.

Lake Erie temperatures have been relatively cool due to the rainfall, so NOAA said the bloom is not expected to start until late July.

The algal blooms range in size, which is not an indicator of how severe it is. The level of toxins in a bloom can be the dangerous part.

The most common ways to come into contact with harmful algal blooms are drinking contaminated water, skin contact and inhaling misting water from activities like jet-skiing. The blooms do not release into the air.

Some of the symptoms are rashes, hives, liver toxicity, difficulty breathing, sore throat and asthma-like symptoms.

Avon Lake Regional Water has monitors that continually test the water, and Lorain County Public Health is at the beaches every week taking water samples.

Danielson said they’ve handled the water in Lake Erie when it was at its worst, like in 2015, when the severity index was 10.5.

“There are so many things that we are doing to ensure that the water is safe,” Danielson said. “The health of Lake Erie is important to all of us for many reasons.”

Contact Laina Yost at 329-7121 or lyost@chroniclet.com.
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