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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.

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

It will take big changes to current farming practices to reduce phosphorous runoff into Lake Erie. 

According to a new study by the University of Michigan Water Center, stronger measures are needed to achieve the 40 percent drop from 2008 runoff levels agreed to last month by the U.S. and Canadian governments. 

Phosphorous from farm fertilizers feed the kind of toxin-producing algae blooms that contaminated Toledo's drinking water in 2014 and caused a two day shut down of the city's tap water.

Side sonar scan of the sunken barge believed to be the "Argo."
Tom Kowalczk, CLUE

TOLEDO, Ohio - The U.S. Coast Guard says crews have completed an effort to eliminate environmental threats from a sunken barge that apparently sat undiscovered in Lake Erie for nearly 80 years.

Salvage crews recently pumped hazardous, oil-based substances from the barge, though six of the eight tanks onboard were empty. The Coast Guard said Thursday that the mixture of cargo and water removed from the site near the U.S.-Canadian border totaled over 33,000 gallons.

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.

Pinhole-sized leak plugged on sunken barge in Lake Erie

Nov 7, 2015
Tom Kowalczk

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) - The U.S. Coast Guard says divers in Lake Erie have found and plugged a pinhole-sized leak on a sunken barge near where an oil-based substance has been spotted in recent weeks.

The Coast Guard says there appeared to be a colorless liquid coming from the tiny leak.

Crews have been monitoring the site near the U.S.-Canadian border since discovering a sheen on the surface late last month.

The substance is believed to be coming from the barge that sank in 1937 and is on a federal registry of the most serious pollution threats to U.S. waters.

wikimedia commons

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.

Tom Kowalczk

The Coast Guard says it has not found any active oil leaks from a 78-year-old shipwreck at the bottom of Lake Erie. The wreck site is 12 miles northeast of Sandusky.

The tank barge is believed to be the Argo. Records show it was carrying about 100,000 gallons of crude oil when it sank. No one knows what's still on board, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration considers the Argo to be the biggest pollution threat from a shipwreck in the Great Lakes.

Tom Kowalczk

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) - A dive team is searching for the source of what appears to be an oil-based substance leaking from a barge that sank in Lake Erie during the 1930s.

  The recently discovered barge is one of nearly 90 shipwrecks on a federal registry created two years ago to identify the most serious pollution threats to U.S. waters.

  Most of those wrecks are along the Atlantic seaboard and were sunk by German submarines during World War II.

Side sonar scan of the sunken barge believed to be the "Argo."
Tom Kowalczk, CLUE

Update - Monday, October 26, 10:10 a.m.:

The Coast Guard is sending out a crew from Station Marblehead in Ohio along with members of the Atlantic Strike Team from New Jersey to the wreck site this morning. They'll start doing air monitoring at the site. 

Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer 3rd Class Christopher M. Yaw says the team will work to get a "good, clean sample" of the unknown substance that appears to be leaking from the barge so they can identify it.

A small sample of the thick, bacteria-ridden algae spreading across Lake Erie
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Half a million Toledo residents lost their drinking water in the summer of 2014 thanks to thick carpets of bacteria-laden algae on Lake Erie.

It hammered home a warning that scientists have been trying to sell for years: Lake Erie is in serious trouble.

Andy Stuart, president of the Toledo Rotary Club, wants to make sure no one forgets. The club is hosting a Lake Erie crisis conference this weekend.

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

Michigan officials are taking a victory lap in their efforts to reduce the amount of phosphorus flowing from state farms and other sources into Lake Erie. 

Phosphorus helps those slimy, bright green blooms of toxic cyanobacteria grow.

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.

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.

Martin Schwalbe

There’s plastic trash in every one of the Great Lakes.

That plastic includes junk people leave at the beach, microbeads from consumer products such as shower gel, face wash and toothpaste, and pellets from plastic manufacturing.

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

Ohio lawmakers are close to a compromise on legislation aimed to reduce farm runoff into Lake Erie and other Ohio waterways.

The goal is to stop the spread of the toxic algae that contaminated Toledo's drinking water supply last summer.

"I think this bill will make sure the nutrients won't get in the water system, and we'll have less algae blooms over time," said Ohio State Senator Bob Peterson who co-sponsored the bill.

NOAA

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) - For the second consecutive winter, bitter weather threatens to turn the surface of the Great Lakes into a vast frozen plain.

The federal Great Lakes research laboratory in Ann Arbor reports Friday that nearly 81 percent of the five lakes' surface area is ice-covered. On Thursday, the ice cover exceeded 85 percent.

  The lab's George Leshkevich says the small drop-off probably happened because winds broke apart some ice, creating open spots.

Jeff Reutter / Ohio State University

The federal government is offering farmers in Ohio, Indiana and Michigan $17 million dollars to cut back on pollution that runs off their farms into Lake Erie. 

That's after toxic bacteria linked to farm runoff shut down Toledo's drinking water for a few days this past summer.

This is a totally voluntary program. If a farmer wants to apply for money to do things like plant strips of grass or cover crops to absorb and filter pollutants, now the pot of potential funding just got a little bigger.

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

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-MI, announced today that much of this federal money will come to Michigan in the form of conservation projects and water quality improvement projects.

Stabenow's office says the money is the result of last years Farm Bill.

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.

NOAA

The Great Lakes go up and down. It's just a fact of life. 

Water levels in Lakes Superior, Michigan and Huron continue to be above their monthly averages for the first time in 16 years.

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

TOLEDO, Ohio  - Ohio's lawmakers are moving toward taking on the algae that has plagued Lake Erie in recent years.

  New legislation recently approved in the state House would ban farmers in much of northwestern Ohio from spreading manure on frozen or saturated fields.

  Farmers also would need to hold off if heavy rains are in the forecast. Another provision would set new rules on the dumping of dredged sediment in the lake.

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