Eastern Lake Erie

Small algal bloom result of weather, water quality efforts

Earlier this summer, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration pegged the severity of the 2020 algal blooms on Lake Erie at a 4.5 on a scale of 10, one of the smaller forecasts in recent years. Final data to calculate the official bloom size won’t be released until later this year, but one researcher says the original guess will be close.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if that is an accurate forecast and that is good to hear,” said Chris Winslow, director of the Ohio State University’s Ohio Sea Grant College Program. “In a year of travel restrictions, it’s nice to be able to go to a lake, social distance and enjoy that resource.”

That is not to say that all of Lake Erie has been spared from algal blooms. According to Winslow, locations being impacted this year by relatively mild blooms are near the Maumee Bay and on the Michigan shoreline, due to the direction of the wind over the summer months.

Some of this year’s small bloom can be attributed to a drier weather pattern, keeping nutrients in place instead of being washed into the lake from wastewater treatment plants, septic systems and agricultural landscapes after heavy rainfalls. Progress in nutrient management by farmers is also a factor.

“I would say we have made a lot of progress from the agricultural front from one specific perspective and that is the best management practices,” Winslow said. “We are seeing a lot of great data from experiments on the usage of cover crops, tile drainage control structures, buffer strip placements and incorporation of fertilizer.”

With every day that goes by, research shows when one best management practice works and when it doesn’t and which landscapes are better suited for a particular BMP.

“The greatest progress we are seeing is being able to inform farmers which practices are best for them and their farm,” Winslow said. “To get to our goal of a 40% reduction rate of phosphorus entering Lake Erie, we need to have huge adoption rates across the watershed and we aren’t quite there yet.”

Winslow acknowledges that resources in the form of funding are a needed component for farmers to do additional practices for water quality. He said the response rate of farmers that want to be engaged in the H2Ohio initiative and other public private partnerships being formed across the state is a huge step in the right direction.