Lake Erie

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.

winslowsix / Flickr

189 years ago this month, the Erie Canal opened.

That connection between the Hudson River in New York and Lake Erie became extremely important to Michigan, which at the time of its construction was on the road to statehood.

Dan Ward is curator of the Erie Canal Museum. He says the Erie Canal was incredibly influential on the history of Michigan. “Prior to the Erie Canal, in order to get to Michigan, you had to go over a mountain range,” Ward says. The canal allowed settlers to travel to Michigan much more easily and quickly than a journey over land.

Algae (L), Cyanobacterium (R).
Michelle Haun / Michigan Radio

You might have heard.

We've got this new guy strutting around the station telling us to "get it right."

Well, I've had just about enough of this guy. I'm sharing my thoughts about him in this vlog (video blog, for the uninitiated).

I hope you can help me get rid of him.

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.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

TOLEDO, Ohio – The findings of a toxin in the drinking water supply of 400,000 people in Ohio and southeastern Michigan a week ago is putting a big spotlight on how it got there.

Scientists and farmers agree that phosphorus from agriculture runoff is feeding the cyanobacteria blooms on Lake Erie linked to the microcystin toxin.

Political leaders are calling for more studies to find out why the blooms are increasing and how to control them. But a number of environmental groups say it's time for strict regulations on the agriculture industry.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) - The mayor of Ohio's fourth-largest city says water will be flowing into the Toledo area from all corners of the state to help the 400,000 people who are being warned not to drink the city's water.

Toledo's mayor says water is coming from Akron, Cincinnati and even a prison near Columbus.

City officials issued the warning Saturday after tests revealed the presence of a toxin possibly from cyanobacteria on Lake Erie.

Toledo issues water warning over cyanobacteria toxin

Aug 2, 2014
Water faucet.
jordanmrcai / Creative Commons

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) - Ohio's fourth-largest city has warned residents not to consume its water after tests revealed the presence of a toxin possibly related to cyanobacteria on Lake Erie. Toledo issued the warning early Saturday. It said tests at one treatment plant returned two sample readings for microsystin above the standard for consumption. The city warned against boiling because it will only increase the toxin's concentration.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

 

The forecast is in: the green goo will be back on Lake Erie this year, but it won’t be as bad as last year.

The big, ugly blooms of cyanobacteria (sometimes referred to as blue-green algae) happen when excess nutrients — mostly phosphorus — run off into the lake from farms and sewage treatment plants. Some of these kinds of cyanobacteria produce toxins can harm pets and make the water unsafe to drink.

Rick Stumpf is an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He says they’re predicting this year’s bloom in Lake Erie will be significant, but not as bad as it has been in recent years. The blooms reached a record level in 2011.

Coast Guard tops in drunken boating arrests

Apr 13, 2014
Facebook/U.S. Coast Guard

MARBLEHEAD, Ohio – A U.S. Coast Guard station that watches over western Lake Erie led the nation in drunken boating arrests last year. 

The Coast Guard says officers with Marblehead station charged 67 people with boating under the influence in 2013.

The Detroit automakers are moving into their fifth year of recovery after the disastrous bottoming-out of 2009 when General Motors and Chrysler filed for bankruptcy. Half a decade later, however, sales are brisk and auto loans are available. But is the future that bright? On today's show: Are there warning signs of another auto downturn? And, if so, what needs to happen to stop it?

Then, what will our rivers and roads look like once spring hits and the snow melts? We spoke with meteorologist Jim Maczko to find out.

Lake Erie is full of blooms of cyanobacteria (sometimes referred to as blue-green algae) and dead zones, and a new report is asking us to take action. What can be done to improve the health of this lake?

Also, how about adding smell to food advertising? 

First on the show, are Michigan veterans getting what they deserve in terms of benefits and support?

The Veterans' Administration says when it comes to per-capita spending on veterans, Michigan checks in at an average of just over $3,400 per vet. The national average is over $4,800. That places Michigan last in the nation.

What is the state doing about this and to make sure that veterans get all the benefits to which they're entitled?

The director of Michigan's Veterans Affairs Agency, Jeff Barnes, joined us today.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

If you lived in Michigan in the 1960s and '70s, you will remember: Lake Erie was on the "critical list." It was once declared dead.

But it got back on the road to health and recovery until the mid-1990s.

That's when the lake started showing signs of distress, with large cyanobacteria blooms (sometimes referred to as blue-green algae blooms) and dead zones showing up again.

Now comes a report from an international agency that keeps a close eye on the health of the Great Lakes, and it is a clarion call to action. Among the agencies contributing to the report is the Graham Sustainability Institute at the University of Michigan.

Don Scavia, director of the Graham Sustainability Institute, joined us today.

Listen to the full interview above.

Clarification: An earlier version of this story referred to "algae blooms" in Lake Erie. These are really bacterial blooms (cyanobacteria) that look like algae. The copy has been clarified above.

Ohio explores return of sturgeon to Lake Erie

Mar 1, 2014
MI DNR website

PORT CLINTON, Ohio (AP) - Ohio's wildlife agency is looking at bringing a prehistoric fish back to Lake Erie. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources is looking into whether it can reintroduce breeding populations of sturgeon to the lake. 

Sturgeon were once plentiful but thought to be all but gone from Lake Erie less than two decades ago.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Massive blooms of cyanbacteria (sometimes referred to as blue-green algae) and dead zones in Lake Erie: These used to be major environmental problems around the most urbanized Great Lake back in the '60s and '70s, but they are problems once again.

Now, an international agency that keeps an eye on the health of the Great Lakes is calling for more action.

The International Joint Commission, a U.S.-Canadian agency, wants sharp cutbacks on phosphorus runoff getting into Lake Erie.

Carleton College

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) - Federal officials have put a stop to plans for a wind turbine along Lake Erie in northern Ohio.

The decision comes just weeks after a group of birding enthusiasts threatened to sue the Ohio National Guard over the wind turbine project at the guard's Camp Perry site near Port Clinton.

The American Bird Conservancy and Black Swamp Bird Observatory say National Guard officials in Washington sent out a letter this past week announcing it was pulling out of the project.

Mark Brush/Michigan Radio

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - A bipartisan group of Ohio lawmakers plans to make Lake Erie the focus of discussions next year.

State Sens. Randy Gardner, a Bowling Green Republican, and Capri Cafaro, a Democrat from Hubbard, say the Lake Erie Caucus will meet in January to address state and federal policies related to the body of water.

The group will look at ways to preserve the environmental health of the lake and to work on related economic growth and tourism issues.

NOAA

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — Food supplies for fish and other organisms are declining in some areas of the Great Lakes, particularly Lakes Huron and Michigan, according to a newly released scientific report.

The stat comes from Jeff Reutter, Director of Ohio State University's Stone Laboratory. He says the converse is true for Lake Superior. It holds 50% of the water, but just 2% of the fish.

It's a rough estimate, he says, but it gives you a good understanding of how each of the five Great Lakes have unique characteristics, which present unique challenges in managing these lakes.

As part of our series on how climate change is affecting the Great Lakes, Reutter spoke to us about how Lake Erie is especially vulnerable to temperature variations. It is the southernmost, and the shallowest of the five Great Lakes.

He also spoke about how, unlike the other four Great Lakes, Lake Erie is surrounded by agriculture and a more urbanized landscape.

You can listen to him speak about his "50 and 2 Rule" here:

Lake Erie has seen a resurgence in blooms of cyanobacteria (sometimes referred to as blue-green algae) over the last ten years. It was once a big problem in the 60s and 70s, and it has returned as a problem again.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Big, ugly blooms of cyanobacteria (sometimes referred to as blue-green algae) are reappearing in the western basin (and sometimes the central basin) of Lake Erie.

The blooms happen when excess nutrients – mostly phosphorus – run off into the lake from farms and sewage treatment plants.

Some of these kinds of cyanobacteria produce toxins that are among the most powerful natural poisons on Earth.

Over the past decade, these cyanobacteria blooms have been common in Lake Erie. And scientists predict climate change could make the problem worse.

MERIS/NASA

A significant amount of blue-green algae is expected in the western basin of Lake Erie this summer. This year’s algal bloom will be about 1/5 as bad as what happened in 2011.

2011 was one of the worst years on record for the explosions of algae growth.

Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Silver and bighead carp don't appear to be living and breeding in Lake Erie - yet.

Environmental DNA from the fish was found in the lake near the Maumee River last year.  Environmental DNA comes from things like fish mucus, excrement, or scales.

But no Asian carp were captured in a recent electrofishing survey, which temporarily stuns fish with an electrical current.

Todd Kalisch is with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

Asian carp have been making their way up the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers toward the Great Lakes for decades. Bighead and silver carp are the species people are the most concerned about.

There’s been a lot of focus on keeping carp out of Lake Michigan.

But a new study finds carp might do well in Lake Erie and some of the rivers that feed the lake.

Patrick Kocovsky is a research fishery biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. He says it’s believed Asian carp need specific conditions to make babies.

“What’s currently believed is Asian carp require some kind of flood event in a tributary.”

He says the carp need just the right temperature... a river that’s flowing fast enough and a stretch of river long enough to reproduce.

Kocovsky and his team studied the major tributaries of Lake Erie. They found that the Maumee River is highly suitable for Asian carp to lay eggs.

The researchers found the Sandusky and Grand Rivers to be moderately suitable for carp.

Patrick Kocovsky says if carp can get into Lake Erie, the western side of the lake is likely to be the most hospitable.

user nico paix / Flickr

The Michigan Supreme Court settled a dispute like this back in 2005, after a neighbor had sued another neighbor for walking along their beachfront property.

The court ruled that the right to walk along beachfront property extends up to the ordinary high water mark in Michigan. The high water mark was defined, in-part, this way by the Michigan Supreme Court:

"The point on the bank or shore up to which the presence and action of the water is so continuous as to leave a distinct mark either by erosion, destruction or terrestrial vegetation, or other easily recognized characteristic."

Now, the Ohio Supreme Court has chimed in. From the Associated Press:

The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that beachcombers can legally walk from the water to the "natural shoreline" along properties bordering Lake Erie.

The Wednesday ruling comes in a case pitting thousands of lakefront property owners against the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which establishes public access rules.

In a 7-0 decision, the court reversed an appellate ruling that said property owners' rights extend to the point the shore and water meet on any given day.

The high court also rejected state arguments that public access should extend to a high water mark established in 1985.

Justices define the natural shoreline as "the line at which the water usually stands when free from disturbing causes."

It says its ruling reaffirms decisions dating to 1878 and state law enacted in 1917.

screen grab from YouTube video

What do a Lake Erie watersnake, a bald eagle, and an American alligator have in common?

They've all rebounded from the threat of extinction and no longer require the protection of the Endangered Species Act.

The only place these snakes are found in the world is on the western edge of Lake Erie in Canada and Ohio.

The snakes were listed as threatened in 1999 because of habitat loss and because humans often killed them.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the tide has turned for the watersnake. The Service published a rule in the Federal Register today delisting the species. From a USFWS press release:

Recovery criteria include a combined population of at least 5,555 snakes on the U.S. islands, sustained for six years, and protection of key habitat.

Through continued habitat protection and public education, the Lake Erie watersnake population grew to about 11,980 in 2009, and has exceeded the minimum recovery level since 2002. About 300 acres of inland habitat and 11 miles of shoreline have been protected for the snake since it was listed.

Back in 2005, reporter Rebecca Williams traveled down to the islands in Lake Erie to witness researchers taking their annual snake census - aka "Nerodeo" - "that’s Nerodia, the snake’s scientific name, and rodeo, as in cowboy roundup.":

The snake biologists don’t just look under rocks. They dive into the lake for snakes. They sneak up on piles of snakes and then grab the whole writhing mass.

The snakes bite. The researchers' arms are covered in snakebites. The bites aren't life threatening, but they're really, really bloody. And then it comes to the job at hand. The biologists are going to force the snakes' stomach contents out. They call it "barfing the snakes."

And what were they barfing up? Mostly round gobies - an invasive species. So here is a case where native species are taking a bite out of an invasive species' population.

The Discovery Channel's Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe did an episode on the job of a Lake Erie watersnake researcher in 2006 (the snakes poop, pee, bite, and release a musky smell when they're caught).

You can watch Rowe drop to his knees and get chomped on by a Lake Erie watersnake at about 6:20 in this video:

The snakes are still listed as endangered by the state of Ohio, so killing them is still illegal under state law... no matter how much they bite you.

We’ve had more than enough to worry about in Michigan this year -- and more than enough game-changing legislation to follow.

But perhaps as a result, most of us missed something that happened in Ohio that could have had a tremendous negative impact on us, and on everyone in the Great Lakes states.

And the threat isn’t over yet. Earlier this month the Ohio Assembly, which is their legislature, passed a bill that would have allowed businesses to withdraw as much as five million gallons of water a day from Lake Erie -- without even getting a state permit.