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Lake Erie

Sea lamprey
Photo courtesy of USFWS

Lakes Superior and Erie have too many sea lampreys.

The invasive fish latch onto big fish like lake trout and salmon and drink their blood and body fluids. A single lamprey can kill up to 40 pounds of fish in its lifetime.

Catt Liu

If you hit the grocery stores in the Toledo area a couple weeks ago, hoping to pick up some bottled water, you were out of luck.

Several stores completely sold out, thanks to rumors that the city would soon be issuing another “do not drink” advisory for tap water. It didn’t.

But water pollution in the Maumee River and western Lake Erie is creating harmful blooms so large, you can literally see them from space.

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

A new partnership has a plan to keep Lake Erie clean. The MI CLEAR group is made up of farmers, conservationists, environmental leaders, and more. Those groups are teaming up with the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Jamie Clover Adams is the Director of the Department of Agriculture. She said the multiple perspectives will help improve the lake’s water quality on a variety of fronts.

“This didn’t happen overnight and it’s not gonna be fixed overnight,” she said. “This is a very complex problem that will call for many solutions.”

eutrophication&hypoxia / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

If you’ve been on social media the past 24 hours, you might have noticed photos trending of what looks like the Chicago River on St. Patrick’s Day.

But nobody will be dying that river for another six months, and this river isn’t in Illinois.

Courtesy of the Isley farm

Blooms of algae in Lake Erie have given rise to a toxin that got so bad three years ago, Toledo had to shut down its water system.

Fertilizer that runs off from farms, into rivers, and then into Lake Erie is a big reason those algal blooms exist.

But some farmers, like Laurie Isley and Jim Isley, are working to reduce that fertilizer contamination.

a picture of the lab in a can
NOAA GLERL

There are concerns that Lake Erie will experience the same kind of toxic cyanobacteria blooms this summer that caused Toledo’s water supply to be shut off three years ago.

Reseachers monitor Lake Erie to detect cyanobacteria blooms as early as possible, but it takes time to go out, gather samples, and then bring them back to the lab for analysis.

This year, however, a “lab in a can” is giving researchers a hand. 

An aerial view of algae blooms in Lake Erie.
NOAA

Researchers are working on creating an early warning system that can spot when algae begins showing up on hundreds of lakes across the U.S.

The project sets out to use real-time data from satellites that already monitor harmful algae hotspots on Lake Erie in Ohio and Chesapeake Bay along the East Coast.

The plan is to have it in place within two years across the continental U.S.

Harmful algae blooms on freshwater lakes are becoming a growing concern and can sicken people and pets and contaminate drinking water.

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

A robotic underwater laboratory has been deployed in Lake Erie to detect toxins produced by harmful algae that threaten city water supplies.

The project is intended to prevent recurrence of a 2014 tap water contamination crisis that prompted a do-not-drink order for more than 400,000 residents of Toledo, Ohio, and southeastern Michigan.

The device is positioned on the lake bottom, where it can provide about one day's notice if highly toxic water drifts toward the Toledo intake system.

The federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative paid $375,000 for the lab.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Western Lake Erie may see the third largest cyanobacterial bloom in the past 15 years this summer.

The Lake Erie forecast was released Thursday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which funds the research.

Cyanobacteria is fed by runoff from farmers’ fields and urban sources.

Satellite image of algal bloom in Lake Erie taken in 2015.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

The state of Michigan just put out an early plan for improving Lake Erie's water quality. And already, it's getting a lot of criticism for lacking specifics, and relying too much on farmers to volunteer for new anti-pollution programs. 

The lack of specifics might be a "fair argument," says Jamie Clover Adams, the director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. But right now, she says state officials don't have all the answers, and need to do more research before they know which guidelines and best practices should be part of the plan. 

This photo of Microcystis, a kind of cyanobacteria, was taken in Lake Erie in late July of this year.
Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

Michigan has a draft plan ready for public comment on how it will help keep phosphorus out of Lake Erie.

All Great Lakes states will come up with their own plan.  Those plans will become part of an EPA-led strategy to fight harmful cyanobacteria, which thrives on the high loads of phosphorus flowing into Lake Erie.

Jim Johnson is Director of the Environmental Stewardship Division of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. 

Ryan Hallock / Creative Commons

Lake Erie's water levels have risen to a near record high, causing flood concern. Some residents with lakefront properties say they've lost patios and staircases due to the rising water.

Jennifer Caddick is a spokesperson for the Alliance for the Great Lakes. She says the rising levels are part of a natural cycle.

"Water levels vary from month to month, and also over decades, and so we go through periods of high water levels and low water levels," Caddick said. "That's just a natural part of the Great Lakes cycle."

Drowning in manure

May 25, 2017
Free Use Photos / Flickr, http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

I want to warn you that today, I’m going to be talking about poop. Specifically, more than 3.3 billion gallons of it a year, all of it produced in Michigan by what are euphemistically called “Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations,” or CAFOs.

Many of us call them “Factory Farms” instead. They are places where animals are crowded in what are anything but humane conditions to be fattened as quickly as possible for slaughter, or if they are cows, drained of their milk.

But beyond animal cruelty, what I’m concerned about is our drinking water. Three years ago, toxic algal blooms in Lake Erie left the water unsafe to drink for a few days.

Saving Lake Erie

Apr 27, 2017
A cyanobacteria; bloom on Lake Erie in 2013.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

There’s a little-noticed battle going on across the region to save Lake Erie. Now, I know this story can’t possibly compare in interest or importance to a bunch of football players visiting Rome, or which politician might run for something next year.

A hackathon for Lake Erie

Apr 14, 2017
A cyanobacteria; bloom on Lake Erie in 2013.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Pollution and other problems plague areas all over the Great Lakes region, and they can make drinking or swimming dangerous. There’s plenty of blame to go around for this – city water utilities, agriculture, and politicians to name a few.

Now an unlikely industry has joined the search for solutions: technology is taking on Lake Erie.

Wind turbine
Ken Whytock / Flickr

Two birding groups have filed suit to block the Ohio National Guard from building a commercial-scale wind turbine along the shore of western Lake Erie.

The American Bird Conservancy and the Black Swamp Bird Observatory of Ohio filed suit in U.S. District Court in Washington. They say the Ohio Air National Guard’s wind turbine project at Camp Perry, less than a mile from the Lake Erie shoreline, has already violated the Endangered Species Act and other environmental regulations.

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

The buildup of nutrients in western Lake Erie can trigger algae growth – and contaminate drinking water in nearby cities. That happened as recently as 2014, when Toledo residents could not drink their water for two days.

Jeff Reutter / Ohio State University

The Michigan Agri-Business Association, a trade group representing agricultural interests, is launching a campaign to educate farmers about best practices to keep chemical fertilizers and manure from flowing into streams and rivers that lead into Lake Erie.

The fertilizers and manure contain nutrients that encourage the growth of toxic cyanobacteria. 

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

Last night I drove almost a hundred miles into Ohio to preside over a discussion with huge implications for Michigan. The topic was the future of Lake Erie, the warmest and shallowest of the Great Lakes and a major source of drinking water for 11 million people.

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

The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a health advisory for microcystin. That’s the toxin that shut down Toledo’s drinking water supply in 2014.

It’s released by a kind of cyanobacteria that’s been forming on Lake Erie every year, and it can hurt your liver.

Tom Whitten / FLICKR - HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

 

It's an especially precarious time for Lake Erie's future.

That's according to Jeffrey Reutter, an aquatic biologist and limnologist from Ohio State University who has studied the lake since 1971.

It's his belief that if we lose the EPA, we lose Lake Erie.

mark brush / Michigan Radio

Ohio State University researchers say the public is willing to pay part of the price to address Lake Erie’s cyanobacteria problem.  

Satellite image of algal bloom in Lake Erie taken in 2015.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Several environmental groups have filed a notice threatening to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency if it doesn't take action to clean up Lake Erie.

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

Governor Rick Snyder and state environmental officials have declared western Lake Erie is an “impaired” waterway that needs to be cleaned up.       

The problem is algae blooms that threaten plants and wildlife. The blooms are caused largely by phosphorous runoff from agricultural fertilizers. Two years ago, the algae blooms forced Toledo to declare a drinking water emergency.

Mike Alexander is with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. He says Michigan and other states and Canadian provinces that border western Lake Erie are already working on the problem.

Joe Connolly / Cornell University

There’s a new creature in the Great Lakes and it has “cyclops” in its name.

It’s called Thermocyclops crassus. It’s a kind of zooplankton.

Elizabeth Hinchey Molloy is with the EPA’s Great Lakes Program Office. She says it's extremely small.

“It’s less than one millimeter, so smaller than the dot a pencil makes,” she says.

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

A lot of people are focused on trying to fix Lake Erie’s toxic bloom problem. The green cyanobacteria blooms are fueled by phosphorus that gets into the lake from farms and sewage treatment plants.

A new report says we need to focus a lot more on cleaning up the streams in Michigan and other states that feed the lake.

Stuart Ludsin is an author of the report and an associate professor at Ohio State University. He says too much sediment, phosphorus and nitrogen can also hurt the fish in streams.

The ESPniagara, aka "lab in a can."
NOAA GLERL

Scientists launched a kind of underwater robotic tool in Lake Erie this week to test the water for toxins.

Timothy Davis is a researcher with NOAA's Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory.

“We affectionately call it a lab in a can,” he says.

He says this tool takes water samples to test the levels of a toxin in the green blooms of cyanobacteria that've been showing up in the lake each year.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

State officials in Ohio want to list parts of the Lake Erie shoreline and drinking water intakes in the lake as impaired. They want to do this because of the toxic blooms of cyanobacteria that have been growing on the lake every year. The blooms are fueled by excess nutrients, mostly phosphorus, that get into the lake from farms and sewage treatment plants.

An impaired listing under the Clean Water Act sets pollution limits and outlines what has to happen to clean up that pollution.

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.

Ohio officials addressing pollutants in Lake Erie

May 3, 2016
Kathy Weaver / photopedia

Sediment in Lake Erie, once thought to be safe, could now pose a threat to life in the lake.

Officials at the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency are tracking a collection of pollutants in the lake that are at unsafe concentrations.

The source is a deposit of dredged material from the U.S. Army Corps, put there decades ago – so long ago the pile was "legacied in" before the Clean Water Act passed in 1972. Testing from the Corps indicated the sediment was safe and stationary.

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