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Algal bloom not being tracked

Tom Jackson • Oct 8, 2013 at 11:54 AM

The harmful algal bloom on the far western end of Lake Erie appears to be suddenly getting bigger, the director of Stone Laboratory says.

But don’t ask the federal agency that tracks harmful algal blooms about the matter. It’s been shut down by the budget crisis.

Jeffrey Reutter, director of Stone Laboratory on Gibraltar Island near Put-in-Bay, said the Oct. 2 photo taken by a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite shows a very large bloom in the western basin of Lake Erie.    “This is exactly what we saw in 2011 before it jumped into the Central Basin. Hope that doesn’t happen, but note we are now in the middle of a pretty bad bloom,” Reutter wrote late last week.

Reutter said Monday that the water near Stone Laboratory was very green over the weekend but there was enough wind to prevent surface scum from forming.

“It’s definitely worse than it was in 2012 and it’s definitely not as bad as it was in 2011,” Reutter said.

It’s late in the year, however, so the bloom should be gone in two weeks, he said.

“Typically, they don’t last longer than that,” he said.

Scientists will try to figure out later this year just how bad the algal bloom was this year, but right now it appears the algal bloom forecast for 2013 understated what would actually happen, Reutter said.

For much of the year, the NOAA has sent out a weekly email bulletin tracking Lake Erie’s harmful algal bloom.

The Oct. 1 bulletin, however, says, “Due to the shutdown of the Federal Government, NOAA will not be providing the Lake Erie Harmful Algal Bloom Bulletin and related information until further notice.”

The NOAA’s satellite still works, as the Oct. 2 photo shows, Reutter said.

“The satellite only provides images. Someone has to do the interpretation of those images to create the forecast,” Reutter said.

“The people that would do those interpretations are not able to work. They’re not even allowed to volunteer their time,” he said.

Bob England, environmental health director for the Erie County Health Department, said the health department has not run any local tests for the presence of algae in the water.

“We have not tested the bay this year because we haven’t seen any visible evidence of a blue green algal bloom. If we did, we would definitely test for it” England said.

The health risks from toxins created by harmful algal blooms are less this time of year because few people swim in Lake Erie in October, he said.

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