Report: Toxic algae just one way climate shifts are changing the American outdoors

Aug 19, 2014

A cyanobacterial bloom at Grand Lake St. Mary's, Ohio
A cyanobacterial bloom at Grand Lake St. Mary's, Ohio
Credit EPA

An environmental group’s report says climate change is already affecting how Americans experience the outdoors.

The National Wildlife Federation’s report “Ticked Off: America’s outdoor experience and climate change” cites this summer’s toxic algal blooms in Western Lake Erie as a prime example of the phenomenon.

Cyanobacterial harmful algal blooms have closed many Lake Erie beaches for much of the summer, and recently made Toledo’s tap water unusable for several days.

Climate change fosters cyanobacteria through warmer waters and more frequent, intense rainfalls leading to increased nutrient runoff that feed the blooms.

“The rainfall events have increased 37% in the last 50 years,” said Lucas County Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak. “Ohio farmers and our city wastewater plants are struggling to adapt to more of these three-inch plus rainstorms. We got one last week and expect one this week.”

Wozniak said that to tackle the “twin challenges of nutrient pollution and carbon pollution,” the region needs a comprehensive initiative like the successful effort to clean up Lake Erie and its tributaries in the 1970s. But this time, climate change will make things harder.

“We’re draining more than 7 million acres of farmland,” Wozniak said. “We have more than 14,000 farms, and we’re responsible for about 50% of the total nutrient runoff in the Great Lakes.”

National Wildlife Federation President Collin O’Mara toured the recent bloom that fouled Toldeo’s water supply.

He said commercial watermen there are very concerned about the impact on fish populations—as well as its larger impact on Ohio’s $17 billion outdoor recreation and commercial fishing industries.

“These are very tangible examples from guys making their living on the water in Lake Erie,” O’Mara said.

The report also cites growing and changing populations of mosquitoes, ticks, and other pests as other ways climate change is changing the outdoor experience throughout the US.