cyanobacteria

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The drought this summer may not have been good for your lawn.

But it was good for reducing the blooms of green slime known as cyanobacteria in Lake Erie.

"The low bloom we're seeing right now is just because Mother Nature threw us a dry year," says Chris Winslow, Interim Director of the Ohio Sea Grant. "Definitely the problem's not solved."

The problem is phosphorus, a component of fertilizer used on farmland throughout the water basins of Lake Erie. In a normal year, rains flush the phosphorus from farmland into the lake, and cyanobacteria loves phosphorus.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Toxic blooms of cyanobacteria have been forming on Lake Erie for several years now.

A kind of cyanobacteria called Microcystis produces a toxin that can hurt pets and make the water unsafe to drink. Back in 2014, Toledo had to shut down its drinking water supply because of the toxin.

The states around the lake – and Ontario - are working to cut back on phosphorus. It’s a nutrient that runs off from farms and wastewater treatment plants and makes those toxic blooms grow like crazy.

The Great Lakes Commission just launched a new pilot program with Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Ontario. It’ll be a trading program for phosphorus, and they’re calling it the Erie P Market.

A cyanobacteria bloom on Lake Erie in 2013.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

 

It's been two years since drinking water in Toledo was contaminated by cyanobacteria in Lake Erie.

Four hundred thousand Toledo-area residents couldn't drink the water for a few days.

 

That fired up Pam Taylor to start tracking how Lake Erie's been getting contaminated.

 

NOAA

Scientists predict this year's cyanobacteria blooms in Lake Erie will be smaller than any year since 2010.

Cyanobacteria produces a dangerous toxin. In 2014 a large mass surrounded Toledo's water intake and shut it down for two days.

Last year, record blooms covered a huge area of Lake Erie with green slime.

Rick Stump is with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He says this year, a relatively dry June will prevent what happened in 2015.

Yesterday, I talked about how Lake Erie is endangered by pollution from factory farms, which dump hundreds of millions of gallons of animal waste onto the ground every year.

This is far too much for the soil to absorb, and a considerable amount gets into the lake. There, the nitrates and phosphorous it contains help spur huge toxic algae blooms.


You might remember two years ago, when people in Toledo couldn’t drink the water for a couple days because it had been poisoned by toxic cyanobacteria in Lake Erie.


Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Big, ugly blooms of cyanobacteria form on Lake Erie when excess nutrients — mostly phosphorus — run off from farms and sewage treatment plants. A kind of cyanobacteria called Microcystis produces a toxin that can hurt pets and make the water unsafe to drink.

That happened in Toledo in 2014, when the city had to shut down its drinking water supply.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tries to predict what’s going to happen with the blooms on Lake Erie each year.

NOAA

The state has unveiled the first part of a strategy to protect what it calls Michigan’s “globally unique water resources.”

The 30-year water strategy is a product of the state’s Office of the Great Lakes, which is part of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

It’s a vision for water stewardship that mixes social, environmental, and economic goals.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

TOLEDO – Ohio's plan to take a big bite out of what's feeding the toxic cyanobacteria in western Lake Erie leans heavily on programs put in place over the last few years.

The strategy obtained by The Associated Press calls for additional water monitoring and more oversight of existing programs, but no new money toward targeting the blooms threatening drinking water.

The plan being rolled out Wednesday is the state's blueprint for reaching a 40% reduction in the phosphorus runoff that fuels the cyanobacteria in the lake's western end.

Michigan will see more extreme storms as the climate changes
Flickr/mdprovost

By 2095, Michigan's summers will be like those we're used to seeing in Arkansas and Mississippi. Our winters will be like West Virginia's and Kentucky's.

And that changing climate – with extreme heat, big storms, plus a LOT more rain and snow – means we're looking at five major health risks, according to a new report from climate researchers and the state health department.

Jeff Reutter / Ohio State University

On Monday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced $41 million to help farmers in the West Lake Erie Basin reduce phosphorus runoff through voluntary programs.

Gail Philbin of the Michigan Chapter Sierra Club says "every little bit helps," but she thinks there are a number of other things that could do more to keep phosphorus out of Lake Erie.

The nutrient encourages the growth of bacteria and algae blooms.

NOAA

Scientists say a toxic bacteria bloom in Lake Erie this past summer was the largest on record, and produced a thick scum so big it could almost cover New York City.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says the outbreak surpassed the record-setting bloom in 2011 that stretched from Toledo to Cleveland.

Sandy Bihn is with Lake Erie Waterkeeper Inc. 

She says states bordering Lake Erie have to dramatically reduce the amount of phosphorus getting into the lake.

Phosphorus is a nutrient that helps cyanobacteria grow.

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Wayne County's wastewater treatment plant will soon have to reduce the amount of phosphorus it dumps into the Detroit River.

It's part of the state's plan to lower phosphorus levels in Lake Erie to control cyanobacteria blooms. 

Bill Creal is with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.  He says the new permit for Wayne County will be the same as the permit given to Detroit Water and Sewerage last year, which was more successful at reducing phosphorus than anyone envisioned.

Lake Improvement Association / Flickr

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that a 2011 algae bloom shut down Toledo's water system. It also incorrectly attributed to Dr. Sonia Joseph-Joshi a statement that this year's blooms are not expected to affect the system.

A growth of harmful algae on Lake Erie has grown larger than last year's bloom, according to the National and Oceanic Atmospheric Adminstration's Lake Erie Harmful Algal Bloom Bulletin. 

Rebecca Williams/Michigan Radio

There’s a bloom of cyanobacteria in Lake Erie right now. Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are predicting it could become the second worst on record.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Another severe algal bloom will hit western Lake Erie later this summer, according to environmental scientists from the University of Michigan and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Last August, high levels of cyanobacteria shut down Toledo's drinking water supply.

Heavy rains in June have set up conditions for another severe bloom, ranking between an 8.1 and 9.5 on a 10-point scale. Any bloom greater than a 5.0 is of concern. Scientists say they can't predict whether there will be another "Toledo event," as that depends on how the bloom develops. 

NOAA

Governor Rick Snyder’s administration has released a first draft of a 30-year strategy for protecting and improving the state’s water resources.

The plan says there are environmental and economic benefits to protecting and improving lakes, rivers, and streams. The plan includes connecting waterways to promote tourism. Also, fixing outdated sewer and drinking water systems.

Jeff Reutter / Ohio State University

It looks like the toxic bacterial blooms on Lake Erie won't be as bad this summer.

Last August the blooms, which look kind of like algae or pond scum, were dangerous enough that people in Toledo and parts of Michigan couldn't drink their tap water for a few days.

farming equiptment
Helen Hanley / creative commons

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is teaming up with three states –  Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana –  and 40 groups to jointly tackle cyanobacteria, that scourge of Lake Erie that briefly shut down Toledo's water supply last summer.

Cyanobacteria thrives on phosphorus and other nutrients in runoff from farms. The hope is to deprive cyanobacteria of some of the food it needs to reproduce in massive quantities.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Large animal farms will no longer be allowed to give or sell excess manure to smaller farms between the months of January and March.

Brad Wurfel is with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.  He says the larger farms know not to do this, but sometimes the smaller farms will spread the manure on frozen, snow-covered fields. 

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

The Ohio state Legislature has passed bills to try to cut down on the nutrients flowing into Lake Erie that feed cyanobacteria. 

Cyanobacteria looks like algae, and some forms are toxic. 

A cyanobacteria bloom shut down Toledo's water supply briefly last summer. 

Manure, untreated sewage, sediment, and phosphorus all encourage the growth of cyanobacteria.

The legislation establishes fines against farmers caught applying manure on a frozen field or right before a heavy rain.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) - Ohio's lawmakers aren't likely to wait long next year before taking another shot at tackling the cyanobacteria problem in Lake Erie.

  The Legislature ran out of time this month before it could pass a bill that outlined new rules for farmers and water treatment plant operators.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Michigan Congresswoman Candice Miller says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency needs to do more to help cities deal with toxic cyanobacteria blooms in Lake Erie.

"Particularly when they see something where you have an entire region could not utilize their own drinking water supply," says Miller, referring to a two-day shutdown of Toledo's water supply in August. 

Jeff Reutter / Ohio State University

The images of sludgy-looking green water coming out of taps this summer in Ohio and parts of Southeast Michigan are hard to forget. 

More than 400,000 people saw their water contaminated by toxins from cyanobacteria and algal blooms on Lake Erie. 

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

 

The images of green water in Lake Erie and foul, toxic tap water in Toledo certainly got many of us at least thinking about what's coming out of our taps.

What is Michigan doing to protect our drinking water, the water we get from the Great Lakes system, against cyanobacteria, the toxin that led to a ban on tap water usage in Toledo last month?

Dan Wyant is the director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. He says there needs to be a comprehensive plan to deal with the problems. 

"We all need to work toward improving water qualities throughout not only the Great Lakes, but also rivers and streams," says Wyant.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) - Consumers in Ohio's fourth-largest city may be asked to voluntarily conserve water next year to limit demand and help reduce contamination from toxins left by Lake Erie algae.

Such toxins fouled water for 400,000 people in the Toledo area last month, leaving some without clean tap water for two days.

The Blade newspaper reports the water treatment commissioner talked about the planned conservation request during a panel discussion this week. Commissioner Tim Murphy says lowering demand would allow water to be treated for longer periods of time.

Lake Improvement Association / Flickr

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) - The federal government is coming up with more money to help farmers cut down on the fertilizers that are feeding cyanobacteria, sometimes referred to as blue-green algae, in Lake Erie.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio announced Friday that an additional $1 million will go into a program that will give grants to farmers who plant winter crops.

Researchers say winter crops help to stop fertilizers from washing into streams and rivers that flow into Lake Erie.

This guy gets all offended when you call him "algae"

Aug 28, 2014
That's me in the studio at Michigan Radio with ATC host Jennifer White. I think she finally gets it.
Steve Chyrpinski

If you go out in western Lake Erie right now, you'll see us.

We turn the water green. The wakes of the boats -- normally a frothy white -- we turn them a frothy green.

We've been at it for billions of years, and the more you feed us (thank you farmers and the people of metro Detroit), the more we multiply in your warm slow moving waters. But when experts and reporters talk about us, they call us "toxic algae."

Algae? Seriously? Just because we look like plant-scum growing in the water doesn't mean that's what we are.

We are the only kind of bacteria that can release the microsystin toxin into water supplies.

Scientists are starting to call us by the right name. My scientist-friends talked with Rebecca Williams about it today for the Environment Report, thank goodness.

And now I'm trying to work on the reporters and hosts at Michigan Radio. 

See for yourself:

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

 

Lately, that green slime in the lake has been all over the news after it shut down Toledo’s water supply.

Journalists, city and government officials have been calling that green slime  “blue-green algae”, “toxic algae” or “toxic algal blooms.”

Well, turns out that’s not exactly right.

“That’s just maddening,” said James Bull, a professor of biology and environmental science. He works at Wayne County Community College and Macomb Community College.

He says it’s not accurate to call the green slime that shut down Toledo’s water system “a toxic algal bloom.” 

He wrote to Michigan Radio because we were some of the people using the wrong term.

“It’s wrong because even though these organisms superficially look like algae, I think we ought to understand that these really are a kind of bacteria,” Bull said.

He says scientists used to call this stuff “blue-green algae.” Now they call it “cyanobacteria.” He says calling cyanobacteria "algae" is like calling a dolphin a fish.

A lighthouse on Pelee Island in Lake Erie.
Richard Hsu / Flickr

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) - Residents of a small Canadian island are being warned not to drink their well water because of potentially toxic bacteria in Lake Erie.

Cyanobacteria blooms causing the warning are the same stuff that contaminated the drinking water of about 400,000 people in the Toledo area earlier this month.

Some 300 people who live on Canada's Pelee Island year-round are also being told not to bathe or cook with water from their private wells that draw water from the lake.

The warning from the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit in Ontario also says residents and visitors to the island shouldn't swim in the lake.

The island about 50 miles east of Toledo is situated along the U.S.-Canadian border in Lake Erie.

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