Why you should care about harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie

Cleveland isn’t facing the same icky, stinky green mat of algae plaguing Toledo, thank goodness.

The harmful algal bloom originates near the Maumee River because Lake Erie is so shallow in that area, and because most of the phosphorous contributing comes from fertilizer runoff from farms around the Maumee. Yet the bloom in Lake Erie’s western basin — which scientists are ranking a 7.5 out of 10, same as in 2013 — still affects the overall health of the lake we love.

In the last two weeks, the bloom has blossomed, with shoots stretching as far as Lorain County. You can read the details on cleveland.com.

Meanwhile, here are five reason algal bloom matters to all Ohioans.

1. Algal blooms reduce tourism spending: Lake Erie brings $14 billion annually in tourism spending. A 2015 report showed algal blooms in 2011 cost $71 million in lost economic benefits and in 2014 cost $65 million. Over 30 years, the report estimated more than $1.3 billion in lost tourism spending.

An Ohio State University study in August found that fishing license sales drop at least 10 percent every time a bloom reaches a moderate health risk. A severe, summer-long bloom would cause up to $5.6 million in lost fishing revenue and associated expenditures. Think about it: anglers don’t want to pay $600 for a charter fishing day on gross water.

2. They threaten drinking water: Ohio governments spend millions of dollars protecting our Lake Erie intake cribs and removing toxins from the water so that it’s safe to drink.

3. Algal blooms can hurt fish: Microcystis cyanobacteria is toxic to humans and pets, and can hurt fish too. Research shows that fish caught in areas affected by harmful algal blooms should be safe to eat as long as the Ohio Sport Fish Health and Consumption guidelines are followed. But you should rinse fish with clean water before eating them. And you should not eat fish internal organs.

4. They hurt property values: An OSU study of Grand Lake St. Mary’s and Buckeye Lake — both afflicted with algae blooms — found that from 2009 to 2015, sale prices for homes within one third of a mile of a lake fell 11 to 17 percent, while prices for lake-adjacent homes fell more than 22 percent. 

5. They could bring federal involvement: The Toledo mayor this week announced she supports classifying Lake Erie’s open waters as impaired, which could bring new federal regulations.

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