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Lake Erie algae bloom rated 'severe'

The algae bloom near Maumee Bay State Park in September
Elizabeth Miller/ideastream
The algae bloom near Maumee Bay State Park in September

The 2017 algae bloom is over in western Lake Erie.  And while it didn’t directly threaten drinking water, its bright green hue prompted national attention and hurt Lake Erie’s tourism business. 

This year’s harmful algae bloom was expected to be one of the worst in recent years.  University of Toledo professor Thomas Bridgeman says that forecast held true – it was in top five blooms of the last 15 years.

But, “it was not as densely toxic as it has been in the past,” said Bridgeman.

The algae bloomed late –  it wasn’t until September that photos of green water and lifeless fish started showing up.  It brought back memories of 2014, when the city of Toledo announced a do-not-drink advisory for residents.

And this year’s bloom didn’t just look bad.

“Beaches were impacted for sure,” says Bridgeman.  “Depending on wind direction, you can get a real concentration of bloom material on the beaches.”

Lake Erie charter boat captains estimated a 25 percent loss in business.  At its peak, the bloom covered about 1,000 square miles from Toledo to the Ontario coast, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s seasonal assessment.

The bloom even prompted Toledo mayor Paula Hicks Hudson to call for an impairment designation for western Lake Erie, sending letters to President Trump and Gov. John Kasich.  Calling the lake “impaired” would require a detailed examination of pollution sources, including agriculture and wastewater treatment plants.

Despite the big bloom, the city of Toledo said the lake water was safe, only placing its water system on “watch” twice.

“We had a large bloom in the Maumee River – it was very visible, thousands of people could see it,” says Bridgeman.

“The Maumee River is 10 miles away from Lake Erie, where we get our drinking water. The water intake was totally clear.”

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Reporter/producer Elizabeth Miller joined ideastream after a stint at NPR headquarters in Washington D.C., where she served as an intern on the National Desk, pitching stories about everything from a gentrified Brooklyn deli to an app for lost dogs. Before that, she covered weekend news at WAKR in Akron and interned at WCBE, a Columbus NPR affiliate. Elizabeth grew up in Columbus before moving north to attend Baldwin Wallace, where she graduated with a degree in broadcasting and mass communications.