Harmful Algal Blooms – Lake Erie

value of lake erie
threat of algal blooms
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Lake Erie provides drinking water for 11 million people, supports productive fisheries and wildlife habitat, and sustains the regional tourism economy, making it very valuable to the Great Lakes region. Annually, the boating recreation economy in Ohio generates $3.5 billion while the total tourism-related economy generates $15 billion, including support for 127,852 jobs and $1.9 billion in taxes. Prioritizing clean water and acting to protect freshwater resources is critical to maintaining the health of our communities and the security of the Great Lakes regional economy.


Toxic algal outbreaks in Lake Erie threaten our drinking water, public health, fish and wildlife, and economy. Algal blooms in Lake Erie are comprised of blue-green algae, or more formally, cyanobacteria. Algal blooms are fueled by nutrient pollution, which comes from two main sources: farms that allow manure and fertilizer to run off into local waterways after snow melt or rain, and sewage systems that, during some heavy rain events, spill raw or partially treated sewage into local waters. More than 88 percent of the algal-bloom-causing polluted runoff into the Maumee and Sandusky rivers comes from agriculture.

Algal blooms become harmful algal blooms when these excess nutrients in the water cause cyanobacteria to grow rapidly, which can deplete aquatic oxygen levels through a process called eutrophication. Reduced oxygen in the water can create fish kills and dead zones in aquatic ecosystems. In addition, cyanobacteria produces a toxin called microcystin that is harmful to humans and wildlife upon contact exposure or ingestion.

Toxic algal blooms can generate significant losses when they contaminate drinking water or make the water unsafe for recreation. In 2011, nearly $71 million in economic benefits were lost because of the harmful algal bloom event in Toledo, and in 2014, a toxic algal outbreak in western Lake Erie lead to a “do not drink” advisory for three days for more than 400,000 people in the area. Research shows uncontrolled algal blooms could cost Canada $5.3 billion over 30 years. The businesses and communities that rely on these freshwater resources cannot afford to take on the cost of harmful algal blooms, and inaction will only make the problem more costly.


To restore Lake Erie and prevent harmful algal blooms, we need policy and incentive based solutions that advance progress toward the regional 40% nutrient reduction goal. These solutions must include monitoring metrics and accountability measures to hold sectors that contribute to harmful algal blooms accountable, and to ensure that they meet standards and regulations that protect critical resources such as the Great Lakes from contamination. While many farmers in the Western Lake Erie Basin are working tirelessly to become part of the solution by implementing voluntary practices that reduce fertilizer run-off from their fields, it is clear that more needs to be done to reach the nutrient reduction targets that will restore the health of Lake Erie. We have achievable solutions – what we need is consensus from policy makers and action from all farmers to make significant progress.

Leadership and industry in the Great Lakes region must join the Great Lakes Business Network in their commitment to protect the Great Lakes and other inland bodies of water, to ensure that every person has access to clean water and our Great Lakes economy continues to thrive.

The Great Lakes Business Network is currently working for/towards a regional commitment and coordinated actions to restore Lake Erie and prevent harmful algal blooms. We advocate for results-oriented actions that ensure progress towards the 40% nutrient reduction target and believe a joint statement across jurisdictions can generate momentum towards a clean Lake Erie.

Toxic algal outbreaks in Lake Erie threaten our drinking water, public health, fish and wildlife, and economy.

According to the 2019 forecast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration this year’s bloom will measure a predicted 7.5 on the severity index with potential to range between 6 and 9.

The severity index is calculated based on the predicted size and duration of the algal bloom. Scientists rely on other monitoring methods to predict algal toxicity. Conditions like warm weather, heavy rain events, and mild wind speeds are often linked to more significant algal blooms.

Recent Updates

Giant algae bloom returns to Lake Erie, threatens drinking water (WXYZ Detroit, July 15, 2019)

Protect Lake Erie’s quality (Star Beacon, July 12, 2019)

NOAA, researchers predict large summer HAB in Lake Erie (Water Finance Management, July 11, 2019)

Wet spring likely to fuel severe Lake Erie harmful algae bloom (MLive, July 11, 2019)

Possible algal bloom off Erie, Pa., raises fears of what’s to come (The Buffalo News, July 11, 2019)

Forecast: A notable algal bloom, with a healthy dose of skepticism (The Toledo Blade, July 11, 2019)

Lake Erie harmful algal bloom forecast is on par with 2017 (Cleveland.com, July 11, 2019)

Lucas County residents react to harmful algal bloom forecast (WTOL 11, July 11, 2019)

Mississippi closes beaches because of toxic algae blooms (New York Times, July 8, 2019)

Charter boat industry, businesses keep an eye on algae (Fremont News Messenger, June 21, 2019)

Scientists predict toxic algal bloom in western Lake Erie (The Detroit News, June 21, 2019)

Sen. Brown gets closeup look at Lake Erie algae issues (Freemont News Messenger, June 15, 2019

Toxic Algae Blooms: What You Should Know (Environmental Working Group, June 11, 2019)

Lake Erie harmful algae bloom projected to be more severe in 2019; Cleveland sewer overflow sparks advisory (The News-Herald, May 30, 2019)

Great Lakes buoys help fight algal blooms, and they just returned to the water (Fox 2 Detroit, May, 21, 2019)

Cleveland Water Alliance wins $15,000 Great Lakes Protection award (Cleveland.com, May 20, 2019)

Trained dogs are helping solve Michigan’s algal bloom problems (MI CLEAR, May 13, 2019)

Scientists predict “significant” cyanobacteria blooms on Lake Erie this year (Michigan Radio, May 11, 2019)

More rain means more algae in Lake Erie later this summer (Detroit Free Press, May 1, 2019)