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Lake Erie Toxic Algae Creates a “Monster” of a Problem

October 5, 2011

COLUMBUS, Ohio - A nutrient crisis is creating a "feast or famine" situation in Lake Erie and the other Great Lakes, according to a new report.

Too little food is making fish starve in Lake Huron's offshore waters, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) report says, while too much food is causing a massive algae problem in Lake Erie and other coastal systems.

Andy Buchsbaum, NWF's regional executive director, testified before a U.S. Senate subcommittee on the matter Tuesday, and says the situation threatens the health of people and wildlife in the region.

"The algae bloom in Lake Erie is truly monstrous. It extends miles into the lake, it's 2 feet thick in places and they've measured a toxin in the algae that's 1,000 times higher than the drinking water standard that the World Health Organization puts out."

Buchsbaum says the nutrient imbalance is caused by interactions between excessive fertilizer runoff from farms and invasive species.

Rick Unger, president of the Lake Erie Charter Boat Association, has seen the algae blooms in the lake firsthand.

"Over the last several years, it's just grown to proportions that would remind people, if they remember back in the 1960s, what Lake Erie was and what it looked like, when it was called the 'dead lake.' We're headed right back to those times."

Unger blames the toxic algae for the steep decline in charter boat captains operating on Lake Erie, and fears the further economic damage the region could suffer.

"People just are not going to come to a lake that is thick as mud, colored green that can hurt 'em. They will not come. It will destroy the economy of Ohio."

The report offers numerous suggestions to fix it, including using the Clean Water Act to uphold water quality standards and better support of federal Farm Bill programs to reduce polluted agricultural runoff.

The full report is online at

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH