NOAA: 2015 algal bloom forecast worse than last year - News, Weather, Sports, Toledo, OH

NOAA: 2015 Lake Erie algal bloom forecast worse than last year

(Toledo News Now) -

There were major developments Thursday over concerns about algal blooms in the western basin of Lake Erie. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released its harmful algal bloom forecast and U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) is calling it "incredibly troubling."

Earlier algae predictions were made after a dry April and May but that has changed dramatically after historic rains in June. NOAA researchers now say the algal bloom will be more severe than in 2015 and you will notice it on certain days.

Dr. Rick Stumpf, oceanographer for NOAA, made the much-anticipated announcement Thursday morning at the Stone Lab. He predicted an algal bloom of 8.7 on a scale of 1 to 10. That is not as high as the “10” recorded in 2011, but is higher than last year's 6.5 severity level, when Toledo suffered its drinking water crisis.

“People will see, on calm days, larger areas of scum. On windy days they won't see too much of that. That will probably be one of the biggest visible impacts,” said Dr. Stumpf. "[There's] more biomass than last year. Not as bad as 2011, but could be the second worst bloom that we've seen."

He also says that does not mean there will be a greater chance for another water crisis like the one that poisoned drinking water in the Toledo area for more than two days last August. Stumpf says there are more monitors in the water now to see the algae as it grows and moves.

When asked if people should be worried or even panic after the severe algal bloom prediction, Dr. Stumpf said, “They should not, absolutely not. They should be confident that their water will be fine.”

Stumpf says communities are better prepared to handle an algal bloom after last year. 

"The treatment should be extremely effective this year because there's been a considerable amount of effort put into monitoring chemicals and supplies," he said.

Dr. Laura Johnson, a research scientist for the National Center for Water Quality Research at Heidelberg University, added, “Any of the communications I've had with the City of Toledo and their preparedness, it seems like they are on the ball and especially having all the detectors around the drinking water intake and within intakes itself, it sounds like we’re ready to go.”

Another impact of the bloom, is the expected increased costs for water treatment plants. They will use chlorine and activated charcoal to treat the water. The charcoal typically costs more.

Dr. Jeffrey Reutter, special adviser for the Ohio Sea Grant College Program, said, “I can almost guarantee you the plant in Toledo will be tested more this year than it was tested last year, but I think they're prepared to deal with that.”

In a press conference Tuesday, Commissioner of Collins Park Water Treatment Plant Chuck Campbell spoke about the city's ability to monitor the water quality.

"We've increased our chemical feeds up to four times on permanganate, carbon, chlorine," he said. "Our treatment plant is ready to go this year. We're at a much better preparedness level than we were last year."

The researchers say additional heavy rainfall could contribute further to the algae problem but don’t believe it will significantly change today’s prediction.
Senator Portman released a statement in reaction to the severe algal bloom forecast:

“Today’s prediction that we can expect severe algal blooms in the Western Lake Erie Basin this summer is incredibly troubling and a stark reminder that harmful algal blooms remain a threat to our state. State, local and federal officials, as well as leaders in industry and agriculture, must continue to work together to guard against another incident like we had in Toledo last year. We need to continue to do everything in our power to improve the ecosystem of the lake and end the threat of harmful algal blooms.”

Portman is the author of the Safe and Secure Drinking Water Act, which his office says directs the EPA to publish a health advisory and submit reports on what level of microcystin in the drinking water is expected to be safe for human consumption. The U.S. Senate unanimously passed the bill in 2014.
The senator also wrote the Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act, which reauthorized and improved the federal government’s research and response framework for harmful algal blooms.

The Ohio Corn & Wheat Growers Association also continues to monitor the current algae forecast.

Tadd Nicholson, executive director of the association, said, “Grain farmers from around the state expressed concern today about the Lake Erie algae forecast. This issue affects all Ohioans, and farmers will continue to demonstrate their commitment to continuous improvement by increasing conservation practices, investing in vital research and participating in ongoing educational programs.”

Exactly what happens this year remains to be seen, but there is little doubt this season will be studied in hopes of reducing the threat of the bloom in future summers.

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