Posted by: Vicki Burns | September 24, 2013

Blue-Green Algae Threats Grow Across North America in 2013

Blue-green algae Lake Winnipeg

Blue-green algae Lake Winnipeg

I routinely try to follow reports of blue-green algae blooms around North America and this year, 2013, there have been blue-green algae reports in at least 21 American states and all 10 Canadian provinces. It seems that this is a growing problem, not just for Lake Winnipeg which is the focus of my work, but for many freshwater lakes across the continent.
The problem of blue-green algae in Lake Winnipeg only becomes apparent to many of us Manitobans, when it shows up in the south basin of our lake. The hugest blooms always appear in the north basin of the lake which is much more sparsely populated although there are several First Nations communities situated right on the shores of the north basin. We don’t have a good system of recording the frequency, size or toxicity of blooms, at least not one that is available to the public. The province of Manitoba, Water Stewardship Dept., do take water samples to determine the amount of phosphorus and nitrogen which is entering Lake Winnipeg each year from the rivers that feed the lake. However we have not seen annual data since 2007 so we don’t know whether those amounts are increasing or decreasing. They do sampling at some Manitoba beaches for the presence of blue-green algae and whether there are any toxins present but this doesn’t give an overall picture of the extent of the blooms throughout the lake. If we are serious about decreasing blue-green algae threats, I think we need to get serious about measuring the size of the problem so we can measure whether we are making progress in fixing it.
In the U.S.A., two environmental groups, Resource Media and the National Wildlife Federation, have issued a report highlighting a list of 147 instances this summer in which state or federal officials posted algae warnings. They have stated that there are many inconsistencies in tracking and reporting algae blooms. The same situation exists here in Canada in that we do not have any consistent tracking and reporting of blooms. I have followed warnings of blue-green algae blooms in all 10 provinces in Canada this year. It would be helpful to create a system for tracking in each country and then across the continent. The solutions to decreasing this threat involve decreasing the phosphorus and nitrogen that are feeding the blooms. Surely we can create synergies in solving this problem by sharing information.

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