It could be another disastrous year for Lake Erie, according to scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who said in a report issued Thursday that heavy spring rains will fuel another massive algae bloom in the western portion of the Great Lake this summer. 

Since they began measuring the algal blooms’ severity in 2002, scientists said this year will rank among the top five at a 7.5 on a scale of 1-10, which is short of the most severe outbreaks but still significant, the Associated Press reported.

It is unknown if, like five years ago, the toxic algae will cause concerns for drinking water in cities like Toledo, which draw their water from the lake. Lake Erie, and particularly the western basin where Toledo is located, is at significantly higher risk for the dangerous blooms because it is the warmest and shallowest Great Lake.

Algae blooms produce toxins that make swimmers sick and hurt fish. Studies show that phosphorus, used in farm fertilizer, is one of the main causes of the blooms. However, agriculture experts point out that even as measures have been made to institute best practices to reduce runoff, as well as the amount of phosphorus contained in fertilizer, the amount in the soil has remained steady, meaning the soil itself might be changing as well. The only good news for this year is that because of the incredibly wet spring, farmers have not gotten as many crops planted as normal and not used as much fertilizer — though, of course, that would not be considered good news for any farmer.

In addition, experts have no idea how the record-high Lake Erie water levels will affect the algal blooms. “Each bloom is different in how they behave,” said Rick Stumpf, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“Today’s harmful algal bloom forecast is sobering news for the people who live and work along Lake Erie’s shores. Communities and businesses around Lake Erie worry about and plan for harmful algal blooms, wondering if the algae will pollute their drinking water, harm the region’s vital tourism economy and prevent residents and visitors from enjoying recreation opportunities around the lake,” said Alliance for the Great Lakes Policy Director Crystal Davis.

Thus far, Ashtabula County has not been hit by the massive blooms, as the Central Basin is typically deeper and cooler, making it more resistant to the toxic algae. But that does not mean we can afford to ignore the situation. With the lake, as well as four wild and scenic rivers, Ashtabula County relies on its waterways in a critical way. 

The good news is, the state is making some progress.

State Rep. John Patterson, D-Jefferson, is a sponsor of House Bill 7 with Rep. Haraz Ghanbari, R-Perrysburg, which would create an H2Ohio Trust Fund that would be used to fund water quality protection and preservation programs and receive up to $100 million per year. “It is absolutely imperative that we move this legislation forward to address the pressing issues of water quality from Ohio’s Great Lake to Ohio’s great rivers, streams and ponds,” he said. “Protecting our natural beauty is our promise to the next generation of Ohioans.”

We agree. The bill passed the house overwhelmingly in June, but has been stalled in the Ohio Senate. As the debate over the Ohio budget continues, with a July 17 deadline looming, funding for the H2Ohio initiative — first proposed by Gov. Mike DeWine — is seen as a key negotiating point. But protecting Lake Erie, and all those who rely on it, shouldn’t be something to haggle over. Water quality is not an issue that can be solved simply by throwing money at it — but any long-term solutions certainly will require funding along with improved infrastructure and regulations, and those funds must be secured. 

To avoid a repeat of five years ago, when a major Ohio city was without water for three days, Ohioans cannot continue to ignore this threat any longer and should make their voices heard to ensure funds are set aside for water quality protection.

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