Severe algal blooms predicted in Lake Erie due to heavy rainfall

Kelly J. Kaczala

        The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is predicting  severe harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie, worse than what occurred in 2018.
        The intensity of the last rainfall exceeded its forecast, according to the NOAA. There is uncertainty in the forecasts of the locally heavy rainfall events in June. The maximum severity includes the possibility of additionally heavy rain over the next several weeks.
        Frequent heavy spring rains flush more sediments and nutrients off farm fields and into ditches and streams that drain into Lake Erie,  which feeds the algae. Phosphorus, a main component of farm fertilizer, is the main driver of algal blooms.
        The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District, announced recently that based on preliminary data, new record high monthly mean water levels were set on lakes Erie, St. Clair and Superior in the month of May. Additionally, record high water levels are possible on all the Great Lakes and Lake St. Clair this summer.
        Persistent wet conditions across the Great Lakes basin this spring has fueled the recent rises. Precipitation in May was 21% higher than average over the Great Lakes basin as a whole, and contributed to extremely high water supplies to the lakes. The new record May levels are between one and three inches higher than the previous records for the month set in 1986. "
        “As we expected, record highs were set in May on a few of our Great Lakes, and our June forecast shows additional record highs likely this summer," said Keith Kompoltowicz, chief of Watershed Hydrology, Detroit District.
        Western Lake Erie has been plagued by an increase of HABs intensity over the past decade. These blooms consist of cyanobacteria or blue-green algae, which are capable of producing toxins that pose a risk to human and animal health, foul coastlines, and impact communities and businesses that depend on the lake.
        “The water levels keep getting higher,” Oregon Councilwoman Sandy Bihn said at a recent council meeting. “And we haven’t maxed out yet. There is a large concern among people along the lake shores.”
        She also said there is a big concern  among the agricultural community that they’re not going to be able to plant crops this year.
        “In all the years I’ve been involved with this, I’ve never seen it come quite to this point at this time,” said Bihn, who is also executive director of Lake Erie Waterkeeper. “Pray for no rain for a couple of weeks so they can plant and get the beans and corn in. It’s just a scary situation on both fronts. I guess we’ll all have to deal with it.”
        She said she was also concerned with the concentrated animal feeding operations during the heavy rainfall.
        “The lagoons have to be full with all the rain. I don’t see much reporting on what’s going on. I’ve had some people suggest that they’re putting it in tankers and discharging it somewhere, but there’s no photos and no proof. But logic says to me, with all the rain we’ve had, they’ve got to be getting rid of it. It’s got to be washing off into the lake,” she said.
        The Great Lakes region will continue to see the threat of coastal flooding and shoreline erosion especially during storm events. Localized water levels are often impacted by winds and can be significantly higher during storms. Water levels and flow rates in the connecting channels of the Great Lakes are also high and may, depending on winds and other atmospheric conditions, lead to localized flooding.


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