Toxic Algae Blooms On Lake Erie

Nov 24, 2017  | 3 min  | Ep4314

Pungent, toxic algae is spreading across U.S. waterways, even as the government spends vast sums of money to help farmers reduce fertilizer runoff that helps cause it. An AP investigation finds algae has become a serious hazard in all 50 states. Mike Householder of the Associated Press reports:

Captain Dave Spangler has been running fishing excursions in the waters of Lake Erie for decades.

But he's worried about what's in the water that has caused his business to drop.

Dave Spangler, Charter Boat Captain: "If you look at that beach out there, there's absolutely nobody down there, because there's signs up that says, 'do not go in the water.”

The problem is algae. The tiny plants and bacteria have been multiplying out of control, leading to huge toxic blooms that are sickening people, killing animals and taking a heavy economic toll.

University of Toledo Ecology professor Thomas Bridgeman collects samples of the pungent blobs fouling Lake Erie.

Professor Thomas Bridgeman, University of Toledo: "There's very few places now that are not being impacted by harmful algal blooms."

A leading cause of the algae blooms is a flood of the chemical fertilizers and livestock manure running off into lakes and streams.

An Associated Press investigation finds officials rely largely on voluntary farmer cooperation to stem this flow.

Government funding enabled Ohio farmer Jerry Whipple to add grassy buffers _ so-called "filter strips" _ between his crops and creeks that flow toward Lake Erie.

Jerry Whipple, Ohio farmer: "Soil is a living, breathing entity that we have. It's important to take care of it. … If everybody worked hard and did their thing, I think we can get the lake cleaned up, cleared up."

Officials say the practices are working, but acknowledge that only a small minority of farmers participate. Critics say regulation and more funding are needed.

Jordan Lubetkin, National Wildlife Federation: "we really need to incentivize and light a fire under a quicker adoption of practices. And that can really only come from accountability. And that can only come from regulations and policies that mandate that farmers embrace these practices."

Since congress first enacted legislation to deal with harmful algae nearly 20 years ago, the government has thrown vast sums of money at the problem, including close to $2 billion since 2009 on a program to help farmers improve irrigation and plant off-season cover crops that prevent erosion. Yet, it has only gotten worse.

Florida's governor declared a state of emergency and closed beaches last year after a massive algae bloom spread from Lake Okeechobee.

Hundreds of thousands of Ohio and Michigan residents had to drink bottled water for two days in 2014 after algae toxins contaminated the municipal water supply.

Professor Thomas Bridgeman, University of Toledo: "It's just a gradually deteriorating condition. It's something that I worry about people getting used to."

It's a painful reality for Spangler as algae chokes his beloved Lake Erie. And his livelihood.

Mike Householder, Associated Press, Oregon, Ohio.

 

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