Group calls for changes to reduce Lake Erie algae

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — A state task force looking at ways to reduce the harmful algae in western Lake Erie plans on calling for a major reduction in all forms of phosphorous going into Ohio river and streams that flow into the lake.

Phosphorous from farm fertilizer runoff and sewage treatment plants feed the algae that leave behind toxins that can kill animals and foul drinking water. A report from the Ohio Phosphorus Task Force will recommend a 40 percent reduction in phosphorous entering the Ohio waterways.

Part of the task force report was released Friday at a conference in Toledo on Lake Erie's algae problem, The Blade newspaper ( ) in Toledo reported.

The task force's report could affect farmers, sewage plant operators, large land-based businesses such as golf courses, and homeowners who use or manage large amounts of fertilizers. State and federal lawmakers will likely consider the recommendations when deciding whether to add new regulations aimed at improving water quality.

Tom Bridgeman, an associate professor of environmental science and a researcher at the University of Toledo's Lake Erie Center, presented a graphic at the conference that showed this year's bloom went well beyond the Lake Erie islands and spread across more of the lake than expected.

"The 2013 bloom was second only to 2011 in the open water," Bridgeman told nearly 300 people attending the meeting.

The lake's predominant form of toxic algae is microcystis, which usually tends to float to the surface as it releases gases. But the bloom was so thick this year that the weight of it kept a lot of the algae deep under water, Bridgeman said.

This year's bloom caused the water-treatment plant in Ottawa County's Carroll Township to shut down temporarily. The superintendent of that plant, which serves about 2,000 people, switched the service over temporarily in September to a system serving the Port Clinton area.

The Toledo water-treatment plant was able to neutralize the algae, but operators there noticed higher-than-normal spikes and received $1 million more in emergency funds from the city to ward off the threat.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had predicted the 2013 bloom would be significant, but did not anticipate it being as bad as it was, Bridgeman said.

Phosphorous reduction efforts could include a stronger focus on mixing nutrients in farm soil to reduce agricultural runoff into waterways, tighter controls on animal manure and an effort to fix sewage overflows faster

Chris Korleski, who leads the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Great Lakes National Program Office in Chicago, said the task of restoring the Great Lakes will take decades, even with the $1.3 billion allocated since 2010 under the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to address issues including algae and invasive species.