Staff Blogger: Sarah Brunot, Environmental Intern

The health of Lake Erie’s western basin received the grade C+ in the first ever report card compiled by the University of Maryland, Center for Environmental Science. This is the first year that a report card has been created, using information and data from 2018.

Image courtesy of the University of Maryland

The report card compiles a ranking of overall lake health in addition to individual aspects including the levels of phosphorus, nitrogen, toxins and fish. The report focuses around the western basin of Lake Erie, the shallowest section of lake, and is notorious for toxic blue-green algal blooms.

Overall, the Lake Erie western basin health was described as moderate, receiving  a C+ grade. Water quality indicators were either ranked “poor” or “very poor” (except for nitrogen which was ranked “good”) which means that there was a significant amount of nutrient loading in the lake this year.

Walleye and yellow perch both received “very good” rankings, however the emerald shiner, a prey or bait fish that has been facing declines since 2011, received a “very poor” ranking. The report card is expected to be updated every two years. Click here to access the report card information.

 In mid-July 2020, the prediction for this year’s algal bloom was released. The predicted blue-green algae growth for 2020 was a 4.5 on the severity index, a moderate reading (anything above a 5 is considered more severe). This prediction was lower than 2019 at 7.3, but higher than 2018, which was 3.6. To watch the full recording of the 2020 algal bloom forecast, click here. To learn more about what you can do to help support a healthy Lake Erie, take a look at the blog post “What YOU Can do to Save Lake Erie”.

Threats of Toxic Blue-Green Algae

Blue-green algae poses a significant threat to humans and animals. Blue-green algae impacts the water quality, and can even make it not safe to drink (click here to learn about the 2014 Toledo water crisis).

In addition, the blue-green algae is not only visually off-putting, but when ingested it can make people very sick, and can be fatal to dogs. This is enough reason for many tourists to take their vacations somewhere else, thus leading to a decrease in jobs and revenue within the Lake Erie tourism industry.

Due to its shallow waters, the western basin of Lake Erie is impacted the most by blue-green algae, so areas including Lakeside, Marblehead, Sandusky, Toledo, Put-in-Bay and Kelleys Island will suffer the most from algae production. In addition, the toxic blue-green algae poses a threat to many fish and other wildlife within Lake Erie, and as a result, fishermen could face the consequences.

Since each yearly bloom is different, it can be hard to predict the exact location of the bloom. In addition, the wind can easily push the algae around, so checking up on the location of the bloom regularly is recommended by Richard Stumpf, Ph.D., NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science’s lead scientist for the seasonal Lake Erie bloom forecast (check on the location here).