No fast fix for Ohio's algae problems

State has spent more than $17 million trying to fix the problem, with plans for $2 million in additional funds.
TNS Regional News
Aug 7, 2014


Anyone expecting a quick fix for the algae problems in Lake Erie that forced Toledo to declare a drinking-water ban that affected 500,000 people this week need only look to Grand Lake St. Marys in western Ohio.

The 13,000-acre lake is the poster child for farm pollution and toxic blue-green algae in Ohio. For years, the state has put up signs at Grand Lake every summer warning that the water could make people sick.

And it’s not as if the state hasn’t tried anything. It has spent more than $17 million trying to fix the problem with plans for $2 million in additional funds.

But the one thing the state has not done is set mandatory restrictions for farm runoff. And that’s the one thing scientists have repeatedly told the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and the Ohio Department of Agriculture would correct the problem there as well as in Lake Erie and other inland lakes.

“If you don’t reduce the amount of phosphorus going in, everything else you do is like putting a Band-Aid on it,” said Jeff Reutter, an expert on toxic algae who is the director of Ohio State University’s Sea Grant College and Stone Laboratory. “You’ve got to cure the problem at its source. That’s the way you solve the problem in Lake Erie.”
•    •    •

Cyanobacteria, also called blue-green algae, are common in most Ohio lakes. They grow thick by feeding on phosphorus from manure, fertilizer and sewage that rain washes into streams from farm fields and other sources.

As many as 19 public lakes, including central Ohio’s Buckeye Lake, have been tainted in recent years by toxic algae.

Columbus had problems with its drinking water after a different kind of algae bloomed in Hoover Reservoir. The city has spent nearly $1?million to fix the problem, which caused tap water to smell and taste funny.

Water samples taken at Grand Lake St. Marys on July 30 showed microcystin, a liver and neurological toxin that the algae produce, at 49.8 parts per billion. The state’s safety threshold for swimming is 6 parts per billion.

It was high levels of microcystin that forced Toledo officials to issue the water-use ban. The World Health Organization’s safe limit for microcystin in drinking water is 1 part per billion.

Some people who live near Grand Lake St. Marys and rely on tourism for their income say the state needs to enact phosphorus limits.

“At the end of the day, ultimately, if we can’t get a handle on it, it’s going to have to be mandated,” said Tim Lovett, the president of the Lake Improvement Association there. “If the ground can’t take any more (phosphorus), it shouldn’t be given any more. It’s not rocket science.”

While Grand Lake served as one warning, plenty of red flags were being raised over algae in Lake Erie, too.

A state report in 2010 linked farm runoff with the toxic algae blooms in Lake Erie’s western basin each summer.

The “biologically available” phosphorous — the amount of absorbed phosphorus that algae easily digest — that flowed into Lake Erie from the Sandusky and Maumee rivers more than tripled since 1995, the report said.

In July 2010, monitors that Heidelberg University placed in the Maumee River detected 261 tons of dissolved phosphorous the river had carried into Lake Erie. That was the most since 1975.

Then, in 2011, the algae bloom grew to enormous lengths, stretching from Toledo to Cleveland and easily seen from space.

The work the Ohio Department of Natural Resources has performed at Grand Lake St. Marys includes dredging sediment and applying alum, a compound that starves algae. The additional funds the state legislature has approved will go to build a wetland to absorb phosphorus in stream water that flows into Grand Lake, which is surrounded by farms.

Reutter said Grand Lake St. Marys is more difficult to deal with than Lake Erie.

“The concentration of phosphorus in the soils of the Maumee Bay watershed is not as high as the concentration at Grand Lake St. Marys,” he said, because of the number of farms and livestock operations surrounding Grand Lake.

The state declared the lake’s watershed “distressed” in 2011 and told farmers there that they can’t apply manure to their fields in the winter, when it can’t be absorbed in the soil, said Natural Resources spokesman Mark Bruce.

As for mandatory phosphorus limits, Bruce said, “Let’s see how our plans work.”

State agencies have developed a reduction strategy that recommends initiatives and voluntary practices to reduce farm runoff statewide.

“There’s not one quick fix,” said Dina Pierce, a spokeswoman for the Ohio EPA.
•    •    •

Residents and farmers near Indian Lake, located about 70 miles northwest of Columbus, took matters into their own hands 25 years ago when they met to discuss the lake’s long-term future.

The plan they came up with included farmers’ agreeing to no-till practices, which reduced sediment and phosphorus running into the 5,800-acre lake.

They also agreed to plant 10- to 12-foot-wide grassy filter strips along streams that flow into the lake and farmland that abuts the lake, said Frank Dietz, a board member of the Indian Lake Watershed Project.

Since then, water quality has been good. Tests this year showed microcystin levels of about 0.15 part per billion, well below state safety standards, said Betty Lyle, a watershed board member.

“The lake looks wonderful,” she said.


By Mark Ferenchik - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)

©2014 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

Visit The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) at

Distributed by MCT Information Services


Cliff Cannon

Forgive me if this sounds vain. Yet, I had the privilege of debating recently, with 2 very intelligent, ( in my view point ) Great lakes loving commentator's on these pages.

So I paste my reply here, not because it is mine. Rather, because talking about this horrific problem of clean water is of the utmost importance to us all. Then thank both commentator's for starting this chat, for you are helping to educate as many as possible in our hour of grave need for clean water.

@ I Can Read : What so impressed me in Whoopball's commentary is the understanding of the disaster. ( The crisis in Toledo should serve as an example of the kind of damage that runoff from industrial farming can cause " ) Then the desire to do something ( " We can't afford to view our rivers and lake as resources which don't require protection " )
As we all know the world is in deep do-do regarding clean water and it is getting worse daily. The Great Lakes besides being one of the wonders of the world. Are also one giant drainage system as of course rivers connect them all as they descend to the sea. (With the Soo Locks & Niagara Falls being the most visual reminders of that.)So Lake Erie gets more than it's fair share of pollutants from our western/northern neighbors.

Obviously, no one in my view point should be opposed to helping preserve ,protect and defend the Great Lakes to the best of their ability's. ( And I did not think for a moment. That you are opposed to that great goal ) So the question is " How do we help " ? Education, like Whoopballs' comment is a helpful start, is it not ?

Then what really caught my eye was this : " The availability of cheap corn sweeteners and soy substitute products.... " This shows a very good understanding of why Americans are getting more cancers today than ever ( Cancer's favorite food is sugar products) as well as becoming so obese. ( Hydrogenated soy oil, corn syrup's in processed foods and not working their butt's off. Yet, that is another topic)

So yeah, I was very impressed. However, I left out this draconian, very scary statement. How do you change mankind's food path ?

As well know without the chemicals sprayed upon our fields crop yields would wither as fields no longer lie fallow to regenerate and the land like a junkie has become dependent on these pestcides,herbicides. ( 'cide' is the Latin word for death )

Today, there are roughly 1 billion very hungry people on the planet,while 250,000 mostly children will die today of starvation. So obviously, American food production is crucial and man's ability to change that production seems to this observer to be limited.

So a planet built to accommodate about 4 billion people, now has 7.2 billion on it with that number rapidly growing. While Mother Nature is telling us loud and clear ;'you need to change'

The real question is can we change fast enough or go far enough to keep her from saddling up the 4 horsemen of the apocalypse

swiss family

Cliff..I do agree with you that we do not take seriously enough our water sources, and protect them and value them as the life sustaining resources which they actually are. I believe that "we" Americans in particular, have become so accustom to going into every one of our supermarkets, even the smallest of them, and demanding to see each and every fruit and vegetable being there, no matter if it is in season or not., We forgot how it was not too long ago, when we went into our local grocery stores and got what was locally available, and were looking forward for the next "season" to start so we could enjoy the variety, and the freshness of all of the blessings that God has given to us

Sadly, the way things are now, if a Supermarket is out of any produce, even if it is completely out of season, we get"put off" and threaten to shop elsewhere.Based on the equation of "Supply and Demand" Grocers today know they need to do whatever possible to satisfy their customers,and the suppliers know they need to put whatever chemicals on their crops needed to produce watermelon in November, with little to no thought about the run off of the chemicals and where they end up and the harm that it causes.So we can look elsewhere to look for blame but ultimately the blame is our own.

Finally, your equation for the numbers of hungry and starving people in the world compared to the amount of food produced seems logical, only in an ideal world, sadly, though , we do not live in that world, We live in a world where food manufacturers would rather dump some of their product, lets take apples for example, because I remember seeing this about 10 years back, and was shocked, but I saw that they apple growers were taking truck loads of healthy picked apples and dumping them in the landfill to raise the price of apples, because again, supply and demand... instead of giving them to hungry people they dumped them to get more profit... that is a sad reality in this world.It talks place everywhere.. The Pharmaceutical companies do it.. you know they have toi already have cures top many of the diseases that are out there , but if they released the cure, think of hiow much money the doctors and pill company's would lose, and you know that the pill company's and gas and oil company's are in every politicians pocket.. That is where someone like you who I do think is probably well meaning... comes in... why not run for something... get into politics even at a small level.. and go from there??you could make the difference that we are looking for

Cliff Cannon

swiss family : Good morning. I really enjoyed your intelligent commentary here. Then would like to direct you to Dalhart, Texas. There you will find a fascinating piece of western folklore ( The former IGT ranch )and 8 or 9 massive beef stock yards. Each having at least 50,000 cows in them.

When your standing there looking at them it is like looking into a sea of cattle that just stretches for miles. It is indeed very impressive. It is also very dangerous. Which is what your commentary reminded me of.

As I understand it. Nearly half of the Pharmaceutical industry's R&D goes into making drugs to keep feedlots like these from being over ran by disease, as well as providing the hormones to make these 'super cattle'. Truly, it is hard to conceive just how much urine & feces is there just waiting to bubble into some disease.

Worse, Dalhart which once was in the epic center of the 'Dust Bowl'. Sits on top of the Ogallala aquifer that great underground river that brings life to the high plains and like every town for about 9 states Dalhart depends on this water.

Of course, the aquifer which once over flowed with water is running into major problems keeping up with demand and probably could use about a 10 year rest to recharge it self, Yet, what are the chances of that happening in a world that get's hungrier by the day ?

So yeah, we need to quit dumping apples to raise prices when they should be eaten. We need to restructure our Pharmaceutical industry to make it not only affordable, yet safe as well. Most of all we need to be aware as you point out of the 'true cost' ( Our environmental health )of getting whatever we spoiled Americans want year round in the grocery store.

Then I thank you for your idea of myself getting into politics. However, a man must as Socrates pointed out so long ago " know thy self " and running for office or worse sitting in an office just isn't in me. That is unless one could run for a park ranger type job, where I could be playing out side all day. Then I would be in !

Great day to you


Naw naw cliFF....facts are usaLLy beautiful; sEE folks forget about the Cuyahoga River catching fire tOO. Rachel Carson was avant-garde. Man is the only animal that dirties his own nest.

hit the road jack

I think everyone should check this website out and maybe we could get something done with the chemicals and GMO crap out of the food chain.

Cliff Cannon

Hey kURTje : " Man is the only animal that dirties his own nest " Believe it or not my friend. I must disagree with you here.

Birds in general and one bird in particular. Have a terrible habit of dirtying in their own nest.

The one bird of which I speak makes giant nest's which are fun to find. He/she eats, I think all ( or at least most) of their meals at home in their nest. They love fish and small animals. Which means bones, parts & pieces combine with feces to make about the smelliest nest possible

Have you guessed the bird yet ? Yep, your right it is our beloved " American Bald Eagle ". Sadly it seems, the Eagle has taught quite a few Americans about 'dirtying ' in their own nest.

Great day to you

Dr. Information

Easy fix.......quit dumping treated sewage into the lake. Problem mostly solved.