The Press Newspaper

Toledo, Ohio & Lake Erie

The Press Newspaper

The Press Newspaper

Saving Lake Erie

Can we win the fight?

On August 2, at approximately 2:30 a.m., Toledo issued a tap water ban to communities that consume city water after high levels of a toxin created by blue green algae was detected in samples taken from the Collins Park water treatment plant on the East Side.

Samples from the plant, which draws its water from the western basin of Lake Erie, the 12th largest freshwater lake in the world, showed that microcystin, produced by blooms of cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, was detected at 3 parts per billion (ppb), exceeding the 1 ppb safety threshold established by the World Health Organization. The toxin, at high levels, can cause abnormal liver function in humans and animals.

The ban created havoc in northwest Ohio. Stores open 24 hours reported shortages of bottled water just two hours after Toledo issued the ban. Residents unaware of the do-not-drink advisory during the night awakened that morning to find the commodity many take for granted in very short supply. Not only were customers told to stop drinking the water, but those with compromised immune systems were warned not to bathe or wash the dishes with it.

To many who have studied the lake for years, the drama that unfolded in Toledo was not surprising. Algal blooms have been plaguing the western basin of Lake Erie for decades. The murky, green tinted water that looks like thick pea soup has been studied by scientists, environmentalists, college professors, the Ohio EPA, the U.S. EPA, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, and others interested in the water quality of the lake.

“The 2014 Toledo event was no surprise,” Dr. George Bullerjahn, of Bowling Green State University, said of the three day tap water ban last August. “We saw it happen last year, although on a smaller scale. We’ve seen these blooms for so long. The fact that there was a crisis, that there was a panic, actually was a surprise to me. I thought we would know that this was going to happen. We saw it happen last year in Carroll Township.”

The township, located on the lake shore between Toledo and Sandusky, shut down its water treatment plant and issued a tap water ban to its residents after microcystin was found near the plant’s intake on Lake Erie. It was the first public water plant ever in the Great Lakes to shut down its drinking water to protect residents from the toxin.

The Maumee River is the largest Great Lakes watershed, draining all or part of several Ohio, Michigan and Indiana counties as it meanders 137 miles through an agricultural region before emptying into Maumee Bay and the warm, shallow western basin of Lake Erie.

Two-thirds of the Maumee River’s watershed is farmland, dominated by corn and soybean fields. Agricultural practices along the river have been the primary source of the growth of algal blooms in the lake, according to researchers. The river supplies just 3 percent of the lake’s water, but half of its phosphorus.

“It’s important to understand where our water in Lake Erie comes from,” said Dr. Jeff Reutter, Ohio State University’s director of Ohio Sea Grant and Stone Laboratory. The upper Great Lakes, he said, supplies the vast majority of water – 80 percent – to Lake Erie via the Detroit River, while 10 percent is from rain on the lake itself, and 10 percent from the tributaries around the lake.

The Maumee River, as the largest tributary to the Great Lakes, drains 4.2 million acres of agricultural land, according to Reutter. “And that should tell you what the water in that river frequently looks like – often it’s pretty brown as it flows into the lake.”



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