Experts predict algal bloom will be smaller in 2020

Western Lake Erie and an algae bloom as seen from a Landsat-8 satellite in September 2017....
Western Lake Erie and an algae bloom as seen from a Landsat-8 satellite in September 2017. (Source: NASA/USGS)(WTVG)
Published: May. 13, 2020 at 4:07 PM EDT
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As the warm weather starts to break, people will look to the water this summer. Scientists are already looking at Lake Erie with an early season projection for what algae bloom season will look like.

There's some good news on the algae bloom in 2020.

On a severity scale of 1-10, the prediction Wednesday from NOAA is a range of 4-6. The season is barely starting, but that's very good news.

Lake Erie will have some green algae this year. It's not going away completely, but if it's a four out of 10, that's better than the roughly 7.5 rated bloom in 2019.

Why is it lower? One of the first factors is education.

"There's a lot of effort moving forward there. I would say it's getting increasingly more difficult to find any producer in the watershed that hasn't heard of algal blooms in Lake Erie,” said Dr. Laura Johnson, of Heidelberg University.

Johnson says the phosphorus levels are about what we normally see this time of year. But with less than normal rain in April, the flow into the lake isn't as strong. Steps from farmers could be helping, too.

“It's hard to tease apart when you see a lower bloom year is that because of the rain only or nutrient practices only or a combination of the two,” said Dr. Chris Winslow, of the Ohio State Stone Lab.

The bloom's size for the rest of year will depend on wind, rain and those nutrients going through July. What we don't know yet is the toxicity of this bloom. Researchers are working on tools to predict that.

"That will give the water treatment plants, beach goers, managers an early warning, a more advanced early warning of how toxic this bloom is going to be,” said Justin Chaffin, of the Ohio State Stone Lab.

Experts have always believed eliminating the bloom would take time. In 2020, the signs of that are looking better.

COVID-19 is not playing much of a role one way or another in the bloom this year. Lots of it is fueled by farm run off and the farmers have been working.

Not much is also changing at waste water plants; people are still putting fertilizer on the lawns. So it's not expected COVID will affect this either way.