This week, Lake Erie — a drinking water source for 3 million people in Ohio — turned bright green.
That’s bad news: the Lake turned green because of an algae bloom that spread across more than 700 square miles on the Western side of the lake. These algae blooms are potentially toxic and can pose a significant risk to anyone that drinks or swims in the water.
Miles of Algae Covering Lake Erie
A potentially harmful algae bloom covered more than 700 square miles in the western basin of Lake Erie last week…
That’s because blooms can contain cyanotoxins, dangerous toxins that cause fever, diarrhea, vomiting, and skin rashes. Recent research also suggests that cyanotoxins could cause neurological damage: a 2015 study found that people living near lakes with “persistent cyanobacterial blooms” faced up to a 25-times greater risk for ALS.
And in Lake Erie, blooms are becoming a persistent problem: the Lake has seen worse and worse blooms since the early 2000s. In 2014, there was so much toxic algae in the Lake that the city of Toledo had to shut off the drinking water of half a million people for three days. Research suggests that these toxic blooms are expected to grow more severe in coming years due to climate change.
The toxin that shut off Toledo's water? The feds don't make you test for it.
Doug Keller is the water guy in Sandusky, Ohio. He's had a rough week. He runs the small city's water treatment plant…
What can we do about it?
The blooms are the result of high nitrogen or phosphorous levels in the water, which are largely caused by agricultural activities. As Environment America documented in our Corporate Agribusiness and the Fouling of America’s Waterways report, factory farms, fertilizer use, and processing plants all contribute high levels of nutrient flows to rivers. In order to ensure that the water in Toledo and beyond is safe from cyanotoxins, we need to reduce nutrient pollution from agricultural sources.
Corporate Agribusiness and the Fouling of America’s Waterways
Pollution from agribusiness is responsible for some of America's most intractable water quality problems - including…
We need stronger protections for our waterways and stronger enforcement of those protections. But we’re in the midst of an unprecedented attack on the Clean Water Act and the agency that enforces it. The EPA is in the process of removing Clean Water Act protections for 2 million miles of American streams, protections that would make it harder for factory farms to pollute our rivers. The Trump administration is also proposing to completely eliminate a $165 million EPA program that works with states to reduce nutrient pollution, in addition to $129 million in proposed cuts to the EPA’s enforcement division. And we’re seeing attacks in Congress on regional programs that are focused on reducing nutrient pollution.
As the algae blooms in Toledo show, far too many Americans still lack access to clean water, and we need to keep working until every American has access to clean water. That work starts with holding the line against these rollbacks, which is why Environment America spent the summer talking to over 750,000 people across the country about the costs of cuts to the EPA, and why we just delivered nearly 250,000 petitions to elected officials in Washington. But none of that matters if people don’t stand with us.