Skip to main content

FILE- This Aug. 3, 2014 file photo shows Algae near the City of Toledo water intake crib, in Lake Erie, about 2.5 miles off the shore of Curtice, Ohio. Researchers say they think this summer will bring one of Lake Erie’s most severe toxic algae outbreaks in recent years. It was almost a year ago that toxins from the algae contaminated the drinking water for 400,000 people in northwestern Ohio and southeastern Michigan. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari, File)

Haraz N. Ghanbari/AP

It's summertime, and Lake Erie's in trouble.

Songwriters seeking seasonal inspiration should look away from the not-so-great Great Lake in the coming months. With a regularity that has become disturbing, scientists are again predicting the much-abused body of water will soon be contaminated by a toxic, smelly algae bloom.

Bloom is too lyrical a word for the bacterial scum that chokes parts of Lake Erie every year. Toxins produced by the fast-multiplying algae, nourished in large part by fertilizer runoff, make people sick, kill fish and other aquatic life, compromise the water supply, wreck tourism markets and cost governments a fortune in monitoring and maintenance.

Story continues below advertisement

This year's bloom could be among the most severe ever, due to heavy rainstorms in June that carried high levels of phosphorus nutrients into the lake for the algae to feed on. Farm fertilizer is the biggest source of the pollution. And corn is the leading agricultural culprit, a crop that is being increasingly farmed to satisfy a growing demand for ethanol.

As the shallowest of the Great Lakes, and the quickest to warm, Erie has been historically vulnerable to algae blooms. We have been here before: In the 1960s and 1970s, phosphorus discharge from inadequate sewage facilities threatened to turn the lake into a dead zone. That problem was solved by investments in better treatment plants in both the U.S. and Canada, coupled with reductions in the phosphate levels of laundry detergents.

And then we looked away. Agriculture in the Great Lakes basin has since intensified, and there has been insufficient oversight of the ultimately toxic relationship between fertilizer-dependent farms and hungry micro-organisms in a far-off lake. But the severity of blooms over the past decade has finally made governments on both sides of the border take notice.

Ontario, Michigan and Ohio agreed last month to a 40-per-cent reduction over the next decade in the phosphorus that reaches Lake Erie's western basin. That's a good start, but the true test will come when this hopeful accord has to be implemented. For an accelerated reduction on that big a scale, farming practices will have to change dramatically – and governments on both side of the border will have to recognize the priority of saving a once-great lake.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter