Over the past decade, toxic algal blooms – giant plumes of algae that can contaminate drinking water, harm the ecosystem, and hurt the economy – have become a perennial issue in the Great Lakes and many inland waters.
Toxic algal blooms are having a profound impact on Great Lakes communities. A 2014 bloom in Lake Erie led to a “do not drink” advisory for more than 400,000 Toledo residents, and residents in communities across the region live under the threat of another disaster, while dealing with lost recreation, hurt businesses and ongoing economic and health issues that these blooms cause.
And the health effects from being exposed to these toxic blooms can be costly and debilitating. A 2019 study showed that exposure to these blooms can cause health impacts for residents that can reduce their life expectancy by years and cost tens of thousands of dollars in hospital bills.
Caused by a variety of factors including farm runoff of animal waste and fertilizer as well as a changing climate, toxic algal blooms have had a devastating impact on the health and economy of Great Lakes communities. A 2015 report estimates that these blooms can cost communities tens of millions of dollars in lost revenues from lost tourism, damaged property values, and required maintenance to water treatment facilities – and they’re only getting more frequent. As the climate changes, we can expect more intense and frequent algal blooms as storms grow wetter and waters grow warmer.
Stopping the spread of toxic blooms is a crucial element not only in providing water security, but economic well-being, for the tens of millions of Americans who rely on the Great Lakes for drinking water, recreation, fishing, tourism and a variety of other activities that power the Great Lakes economy. These blooms are everywhere – from Green Bay, Wis., to Saginaw Bay, Mich., as well as inland waters like Grand Lake St. Mary’s in Ohio.
This is why the Healing Our Waters – Great Lakes Coalition is calling on presidential candidates to make addressing these toxic blooms a priority. This means investing in farm conservation practices and supporting policy solutions that help the region hit its goals to limit farm runoff pollution and curb toxic algae.
The next president needs to act with urgency because the region is not meeting its goals to reduce runoff pollution, and climate change will only exacerbate the threat of toxic algae as more intense storms wash more fertilizer and animal waste off of farm fields and into local waters. Great Lakes communities can’t wait any longer. The time for action is now.