Although the main focus of my work is Lake Winnipeg and other Manitoba lakes, I keep my eyes open for news about blue-green algae in other jurisdictions. It seems logical to me that repercussions of blue-green algae blooms in other areas may also occur in Manitoba, if not now at some future point. This news item today caught my attention because if we lose access to our safe drinking water supplies, that becomes a monumental problem.
The city of Toledo and other communities around parts of Lake Erie are concerned that increasing toxicity in the blue-green algae blooms may become serious threats to their drinking water. According to Kelly Frey, the Ottawa County sanitary engineer ““No one has expertise on treating this stuff,” Frey said. “This whole experience is something new. It puts us on edge every day.”
Lake Erie is often referred to in discussions about Lake Winnipeg because 35 years ago it was in very unhealthy state due to huge algae blooms. At that point communities around the lake invested significantly in cleaning up point sources of the problem phosphorus (primarily sewage treatment) and the lake rebounded to a much healthier state. However the algae blooms have now appeared again, threatening tourism, fishing, and even drinking water supplies. The attention now is on the non-point sources of phosphorus, primarily agriculture, because they have already minimized the contributions from sewage.
We are still lagging behind in Manitoba, both on the point sources of phosphorus and the non-point sources. I hope that this news from Lake Erie helps to light a fire under us here in Manitoba. There is so much more we could be doing to decrease the threats of blue-green algae in our lakes but it will require significant investments. The costs of not acting now will be so much greater in future decades. Let’s be wise with our actions and our money.