Action sought on algae blooms
TORONTO—Urgent action is needed to quell seasonal algae blooms that plague the Great Lakes and pose health risks for nearby communities, said a report released last week.
Algae blooms are caused by an excess of nutrients such as phosphorus, which can cause algae to grow out of control and partially cover the Great Lakes in blue-green film in the summer months.
Author Nancy Goucher said algae blooms can be toxic, contaminating municipal water sources.
“Toxic algal blooms can make water undrinkable and unswimmable,” she noted.
“They can suffocate fish and they can cost us a lot of money in terms of reduced property value, lost tourism revenue.”
Goucher added blooms also can raise the cost of water treatment for municipalities.
The water system of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River holds nearly 20 percent of the world’s surface fresh water.
In 2011, the largest algae mass on record formed in the Lake Erie’s western basin, eventually stretching more than 160 km from Toledo to Cleveland, Ohio.
But algae blooms are an issue in lakes across Canada, prompting water quality warnings throughout the summer.
Goucher’s report, entitled “Clean, Not Green: Tackling Algal Blooms in the Great Lakes,” outlined a four-point plan to deal with the issue.
She said the most important recommendation suggests the Ontario government look at economic incentives to encourage farmers to actively reduce the run-off of phosphorus, which washes into the lakes and contributes to algae blooms.
“Without phosphorus, algae can’t grow,” Goucher noted, calling it the key ingredient in the recipe for toxic algae.
She added that researchers found one of the major barriers to reducing nutrient pollution was a lack of financial resources for farmers.
The report suggested charging businesses and the public fees for polluting the lakes, then using the money for clean-up programs.
One bloom on Lake Erie earlier this summer resulted in a temporary ban on water use for some 400,000 residents in parts of Ohio and Michigan.
Goucher said swimming in contaminated water also is unpleasant, possibly causing skin irritation and rashes.
“There’s a number of different reasons why we want to make sure algae blooms are not blanketing the Great Lakes,” she stressed.