HABs: Depends Who and Where You Are

Outdoors with Forda Birds—By John Andreoni

I saw in the news that Mississippi recently closed all of its beaches because of harmful algae blooms (HABs). Heavy rains in the Midwest are blamed for the damage. In 2016, along with the annual red tide, Florida developed a massive blue/green algae bloom that earned it the unsavory nickname ‘Guacamole Coast.’ Kansans are warned that HABs can develop rapidly and may float around the lake requiring visitors to exercise their best judgment.  17 lakes were affected in 2018. In Minnesota where many consider the water ‘clear and clean’, harmful algae blooms are growing more common across the state, according to research from the University of Minnesota. A representative from the MPCA (Minnesota Pollution Control Agency) mentioned that accounts of toxic algae go back in Minnesota to the 1800s. The highest risk for toxic algae is evidently associated with reduced light penetration in the water column. A common sense recommendation apparently implies that if you stand in three feet of water and can’t see your feet because of the color, it’s time to get out.

Grand Lake St. Marys isn’t the only body of water with blue/green algae problems. It occurs in all 50 states and in countries around the world. It’s a serious issue, one that needs to be dealt with, and one that needs to be understood. The current Ohio administration recognizes this and has plans to spend almost $1 billion dollars over the next ten years to improve the water quality of Lake Erie and other Ohio waterways. These funds have been designated as H2Ohio money. Since, in the grand scheme of things, GLSM is an integral part of Ohio’s recreational assets and sends our ‘green’ water into the Maumee and eventually into Erie, it would seem that a chunk of that money would come our way. This is especially true since for years major news sources have labeled us as the HAB poster-child. We probably earned that title after the 2010 blue/green algae explosion, but since then, there have been a lot of positives taking place and our lake users and boat traffic continue to regain its popularity.

It’s hard to get rid of a label, and ever since the catastrophic algae bloom in 2010, it seems to be an annual ritual to give GLSM a kick in the pants. For example, Columbus Dispatch, 2011: Algae warnings already necessary at Grand Lake St. Marys. 2012: A two-year, $8.5 million state project to stop toxic bluegreen algae in Grand Lake StMarys isn’t working. 2013: Algae problems in Grand Lake St. Marys now plague area canal. 2014: Grand Lake St. Marys algae blooming again. 2015: Toxic algae warnings issued at Grand Lake St. Marys. 2016: Grand Lake St. Marys polluted again with toxic algae’s nerve toxin. Each of those stories and more were factual. However, in terms of balanced journalism, I’m not aware of any positive pieces about GLSM that appeared. The development of treatment trains would have made a good story.

Meanwhile, Buckeye Lake earns an HAB advisory and the slant of the Dispatch story seems to minimize the issue. One person interviewed ignored the warnings to stay out of the water with the cavalier statement, “I decided to be brave today.” A 13-year old stated he and his friends still swim because it’s the “only place” to swim that’s open to the public and safe from boats. The president of the Buckeye Lake Region Chamber of Commerce hadn’t heard about the algae advisory, though he said he wasn’t concerned about it. He said it is a personal choice to decide whether to get in the water. A follow-up editorial recommended that “folks really ought not to swim in potentially toxic algae that could make them sick.” They reinforced this opinion by referring to GLSM, “perhaps the state’s most algae-plagued water body.” Quotes followed related to the 2010 crisis and the medical issues that occurred to both people and animals. All are presumed to be true, but why bring up something that occurred 10 years ago? Evidently, our blue/green algae is more toxic than that found in Buckeye Lake or Lake Erie, for that matter, and that’s not true.

People will continue to swim and play in the water at Buckeye Lake because it’s close to Columbus. People will continue to boat and fish in Lake Erie even when the water is pea-green and thick enough to plow. HABs are potentially a problem for any body of water with a watershed that flushes nutrients into it. GLSM doesn’t stand alone as the problem child and making it appear that way is counterproductive. For a change, it might be a good idea to promote a positive attitude toward the state’s water quality issues instead of reinforcing the negatives that already exist. On the other hand, maybe GLSM should relish its image problems. What’s the saying? The axel that squeals the loudest gets the most grease.