Lake Erie's algae woes a decade in the making

Problem blamed on manure and chemical fertilizer, sewage that wash into lake
Associated Press
Aug 3, 2014

 

The toxins that contaminated the drinking water supply of 400,000 people in northwest Ohio didn't just suddenly appear.

Water plant operators along western Lake Erie have long been worried about this very scenario as a growing number of algae blooms have turned the water into a pea soup color in recent summers, leaving behind toxins that can sicken people and kill pets.

In fact, the problems on the shallowest of the five Great Lakes brought on by farm runoff and sludge from sewage treatment plants have been building for more than a decade.

While residents around Ohio's fourth-largest city were being told to avoid drinking tap water for a second day, discussion began to center around how to stop the pollutants fouling the lake that supplies drinking water for 11 million people.

"People are finally waking up to the fact that this is not acceptable," Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins said.

City and state officials monitoring the water were waiting for a new set of samples to be analyzed Sunday before determining whether the water was safe.

"This is not over yet," said Collins, who said some samples have showed decreased levels of toxins in the water.

Toledo officials warned residents not to use city water early Saturday after tests at one treatment plant showed readings for microcystin above the standard for consumption, most likely because of the algae.

Drinking the water could cause vomiting, cramps and rashes. Health officials advised children and those with weak immune systems to avoid showering or bathing in the water.

Worried residents told not to drink, brush their teeth or wash dishes with the water descended on truckloads of bottled water delivered from across the state as the governor declared a state of emergency. The Ohio National Guard was using water purification systems to produce drinkable water.

Some hospitals canceled elective surgeries and were sending surgical equipment that needed sterilized to facilities outside the water emergency, said Bryan Biggie, disaster coordinator for ProMedica hospitals in Toledo.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a satellite image showing a small but concentrated algae bloom centered right where Toledo draws its water supply, said Jeff Reutter, head of the Ohio Sea Grant research lab.

The bloom was much smaller than in past years and isn't expected to peak until early September. But instead of being pushed out to the middle of the lake, winds and waves drove the algae toward the shore, he said.

"Weather conditions made it such that bloom was going right into the water intakes," said Reutter, who has been studying the lake since the 1970s, when it was severely polluted.

"We're right back to where we were in the '70s," Reutter said.

Almost a year ago, one township just east of Toledo told its 2,000 residents not to drink or use the water coming from their taps. That was believed to be the first time a city has banned residents from using the water because of toxins from algae in the lake.

Researchers largely blame the algae's resurgence on manure and chemical fertilizer from farms that wash into the lake along with sewage treatment plants. Leaky septic tanks and stormwater drains have contributed, too. Combined, they flush huge amounts of phosphorus into the lake.

Environmental groups and water researchers have been calling on Ohio and other states in the Great Lakes region to drastically reduce the amount of phosphorus flowing into the lake. Ohio lawmakers this past spring took a step toward tackling the algae problem when they enacted a law requiring most farmers to undergo training before they use commercial fertilizers on their fields.

But they have stopped short of mandating restrictions on farmers.

The International Joint Commission, an advisory agency made up of Canadian and U.S. officials, said last year urgent steps are needed to reduce phosphorus applied to fields, suggesting among other things that states ban the spread of manure on frozen or snow-covered ground.

That report came after a state task force in Ohio called for a 40 percent reduction in all forms of phosphorus going into the lake.

Agriculture industry groups have been asking farmers for more than a year to reduce phosphorus runoff before government regulators step in.

"We're clearly showing progress," Reutter said. "You have to decide for yourself whether you think it's fast enough."

 

Comments

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

Reminds me of the old SNL skit with Bill Murray (before he was a five-timer): http://www.metacafe.com/watch/53...

holysee

I'm thrilled that the industrial dairy farm near Gibsonburg sponsored by vreba-hoff failed before it even received animals.
One less cog in the wheel that dumps this stuff in the rivers and streams. Are farmers and fertizer distributors immune from a class action suit? Farmers get away with driving equipment on our roads that would never come close to passing commercial inspection. They get many other free passes as well including near carte blanche when it comes to chemical application.
Farmers grow the food it's true but now they have contaminated the food and shut down the restaurants. Bottom line is the same as always, money talks and bull$h!t walks. Money is always more important so the farmer wins for now. Mention this at the local grain elevator and they will castrate you for daring to speak truth.

downthemiddle

Just WHERE do you recommend growing the food and livestock? The moon?

Seriously... Even way out west animals still poop.

FalconBall

Two dairy farms - one close to Woodville and the other closer to Bradner. Both might have had Gibsonburg addresses but far from the town itself. I wish you could get know farmers or better yet do some part time work with them. They are stubborn people who often get stuck in their ways but they are more likely to intentionally feed you than poison you. Ultimately they don't like this because they don't care for regulations like license to spray which is why you see so many businesses contracted to do this work such as the Andersons.

knowitall

You are complaining about farm equipment on the roads? Lol. It is about a lot more than farm runoff. Cleveland had a burning river from industrialized dumping. West Virginia had chemicals dumped into rivers from on company that did not want to dispose of it properly....dollars! Did you ever see Erin Brodkovich about PG&E trying to hide the fact they polluted ground water that people drank? Great older movie. And some people want to lessen regulations!! Whole other blog.

KURTje

Holysee you are partially right. It went from farming to AgribuSINess. Earl Butz would be proud. The "little guy" is pretty much gone. You can grow a lot of your own food. It takes a bit of effort but is very rewarding. Besides....how many bowls of soybeans or corn can you consume? Whole Food stocks have been good to me. Some do pay for better quality.

downthemiddle

They are gonna pass a law..

I feel MUCH better now...

How about you?

downthemiddle

Detergent phosphate was the culprit until '70 or so... It was banned.. Problem went away.

The walleye returned in the late 70's... The lake improved... The zebra mussels came.. The lake was incredibly clean in the early 90's...

The Maumee and Portage Rivers have always drained vast amounts of farmland.

FalconBall

Most farmers I know like to hunt, fish or both. They are stewards of the land who don't like to spend more on fertilizer than necessary so they don't over-fertilize to get gains that don't pay for the extra fertilizer. Very few farmers are involved in livestock production in the area as evidenced by the ever decreasing number of meat processing facilities so manure is not as present as it once was in this area.

I think it is fine to investigate the ditches, creeks and river to determine where the runoff is coming from but don't be surprised to find out it's the over-fertilizing of lawns and golf courses along with poor sewage treatment plants that overflow when storm sewers are still flowing into them on rainy days. Additionally, we see people using far more water for showers and overeating, thanks farmers, resulting in additional waste into the sewage plants.

Be prepared taxpayers for higher taxes to fix your sewage systems and then pay more for your overfed ways.

downthemiddle

Didn't we pay a bunch of taxes to fix all the sewage plants up to current standards?

Could it be that the engineering designs were junk and the contractors did crummy work and kicked back to politicians?

Say it ain't so, Joe...

Forward Looking

No one is policing the farmers who have livestock roaming across the creeks or spraying liquified manure adjacent to creeks. Sandusky's sewage treatment plant is not the issue, it is what is occurring upstream and not regulated.

knowitall

The barge party.

downthemiddle

No one has blamed Bush yet... C'mon.. A decade is 10 years...

knowitall

If it weren't for Bush, this would not be a problem. There ya go, feel better? Lol

Forward Looking

Let's see some investigation into how Pipe & Mills Creek are contributing to this issue w/ farmers allowed to have cows along Creek dragging manure into creek and other farmers spraying liquid manure adjacent to Mills Creek.

sugar

Okay Forward, where the fu** do you want the cows to go? In a porta potty? It's NOT the livestock it's all the detergents used for cleaning and all the sewage from your own toilets that get into the lake. Aside from the raw sewage from great liberal bastions like Detroit and Toledo.

knowitall

The lake's primary pollution is from the barge party. All that pooping and peeing!

Rosa

This is a real problem that has been going on. In 2010 there was a report issued by Environment America about corporate agribusinesses polluting Lake Erie.(among other rivers,lakes,bays, and even the Gulf of Mexico.) Had something been done back then, maybe this would not have happened. We can all help by cutting back on our consumption of meat and dairy products, which would also help with preventable diseases such as heart disease, cancers, obesity, and diabetes. More urban gardens would help,as planting your own without the use of pesticides.

downthemiddle

One place where liquid manure is being sprayed freely and excessively is by a certain "big dog" whose posts stain the internet as badly as the real thing stains newspapers on the floor.

SassieSuzieSez

Mr. Falcon Ball hit it in the nose. Sewage treatment facility waste. When the farm land is not soaking wet, treated sewage sludge is applied on farm fields as fertilizer, given free to the farmers, by those who are being paid (by the cities) to take your waste away and land apply it. When the ground is too wet, due to areas which have lots of rain, as has been the case this year in many areas, the sewage waste cannot be land applied - too wet to get field applicators on the fields....so, the storage tanks continue to fill up, until there is no more room in them. Then poof...just like magic...the sewage disappears. Guess where it goes???

heycaptainjohn

"lawmakers passed a law requiring "most" farmers "undergo training" before they use commercial fertilizers on their fields.......Now that was a real "fix" wasn't it.The utilization of federally subsidized "NO-TILL" farming plays a big part in this also as it increases "run off" rather than "soil filtering". This is not a "Toledo" problem and with this bloom happening this early (with a lot of hot weather yet to come) these toxins will be all along the Lake Erie shoreline. This is a disaster that could have been avoided.

Presto

Hmmm..we can all do a little research on Toledo's current situation -
Just type this phrase into Google search screen:"Lake Erie Sewage Spill"

You will see LOTS of stories about raw sewage being dumped directly into Lake Erie by the City of Toledo lol.

There's a story from the Toledo Blade just 4 years ago:
"Toledo sewage spills persist as residents' bills increase"

***I tried to paste the link here but it wont let me-just go to Toledo Blade and enter the above headline and you will find it***

The main thrust of the story is to complain about people in toledo having to pay higher sewer bills--HOWEVER here are some interesting statements in this story:
In speaking about Toledo's water treatment plant upgrade called "Toledo Waterways Initiative" (which hasn't been created yet lol):

"The No. 1 benefit is a cleaner environment for our citizens and residents," said George Robinson II, Department of Public Utilities commissioner, explaining how the waterways initiative he oversees could virtually make sewage spills a thing of the past by 2020.

SO THEN IT SAYS:
The annual sewage overflow is so enormous that the city doesn't attempt to calculate it in gallons.
HAHAHAHAHA
OMG! It does mention "phosphorus from farming" of course lol but lets get our priorities straight here! The City of Toledo has been collecting money from Toledo residents since a court ruling in 2002 to create this
"Toledo Waterways Initiative" which won't actually start functioning until 2020 --

Meanwhile the City of Toledo continues to dump SO much sewage into Lake Erie that they don't even keep track of it in gallons hahahahaha

And this has been going on for HOW LONG ????

Golly Gee city officials just can't figure out WHY the drinking water is "suddenly" full of sh*t!?
"Nothing like this has ever happened before...????"
hahahaha
Like I said - if you want to know WHY sewage is coming out of everyone's faucets just Google " Lake Erie Sewage Spill " --every city that borders lake erie including Toledo, Detroit, Cleveland (etc etc) IS currently dumping sh*t into the lake every time it rains!
What else is there to know about this situation?
Well, according to this same story:

On its Toledo Waterways Initiative Web site (toledowaterwaysinitiative.com), residents can see for themselves where the problem areas lie, but the spills are documented only in the number of uninterrupted minutes of each flow.

LOL go ahead folks go check out how much crap Toledo has pumped directly into Lake Erie lately....
Then we have this statement:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was in litigation with Toledo for more than a dozen years over the filth, claiming it violated the 1972 federal Clean Water Act.

The story also says:

Toledo records show hundreds of spills from one or more of the city's 33 outfalls during the last year. (which was 4 years ago cause this story is from 2010)

The spills range from a single minute to 24 consecutive hours a day.

The worst, No. 33, is in South Toledo near Orchard Street, Maumee Avenue, and Lotus Avenue, just east of Danny Thomas Park.

Well that's enough from this story I guess--go ahead and read the rest if you can stand it :(
I say if ALL the cities stop dumping raw sewage into the lake (which obviously will never happen but I'm just saying) - if they ever did stop and there was still contaminated tap water then let go ahead and blame farming....
For now tho - its garbage in / garbage out. Plain and Simple.

downthemiddle

Could it be perpetual democrats/ union dupes running Toledo?

Presto

P.S. You can check out Toledo's direct seweage dumps into Lake Erie by going to http://www.toledowaterwaysinitia...

33 raw sewage dumping stations (just in the City of Toledo) folks!

And the city has been collecting money from it's citizens for 12 years now for this project thats NOT EVEN BEEN STARTED....

We need to wake up!

I wonder what would happen if all 33 Toledo sewage dumping pipes were suddenly plugged up ? Why does it take 12+ years to do this? lol

Presto

oh ya and here is the map showing exactly where these raw sewage dumping pipes are in Toledo:

see if theres one near your home!

http://www.toledowaterwaysinitia...