Is the Lake Burning?

After an August show in which WTAM radio personality Mike Trivisonno railed against the hazards of the toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie's western basin, one of our experts phoned in to talk more about causes and long-term solutions.

Frank Greenland, the Director of Watershed Programs who oversees the Environmental Services staff responsible for monitoring local algal trends, spoke frankly about the dangers caused by the blooms and how they could compare to the infamous Cuyahoga River fire of 1969.

"When you're boating in pea soup, you want to throw up," Greenland said. As an avid fisherman and life-long Clevelander, he told Trivisonno he has seen first-hand how water quality has been affected by algae blooms in recent years, and he considers this the "Cuyahoga River fire" of our generation.

"That river burned 13 times [before 1969] and it took a lot of outcry to create the Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Water Act," he said. "My question is, 'How long is it going to take?'"

Toxic algae blooms have several causes, but a large one that increases algae growth is phosphorus, the key ingredient in fertilizers. Stormwater runoff carries fertilizer to storm drains and streams.

"That's considered nonpoint source pollution," Greenland explained, something the Clean Water Act "just doesn't have the capability" of properly regulating. For that reason, he says, there's no quick fix. A solution is going to be long-term and will require collaboration and regulation.

The Sewer District has increased monitoring and algae data collection this year and has been involved in algal issues since 2007. Wastewater treatment plants, considered point sources in the Clean Water Act, control the amount of phosphorus entering Lake Erie, but nonpoint sources are the larger concern and require a more holistic reassessment of land management practices.As Greenland has been quoted before, "We cannot afford to wait to develop a comprehensive response to the issue of algal blooms in our waterways. Public health depends upon an appropriate and timely response."

Is the current algal bloom – potentially the largest on record since 2011 – as dangerous as the Cuyahoga River fires in the 1960s?  On November 11th, Jeffrey M. Reutter, Ph.D., Special Advisor for the Ohio Sea Grant College Program and Stone Laboratory at The Ohio State University, will join us at the City Club to share his perspective on Lake Erie and what needs to happen to fix the current harmful algal bloom.

Click here for the original posting of this blog. 

The forum with Dr. Reutter is sponsored by the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District and the Cleveland Water Alliance.

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