Posted by: Vicki Burns | February 11, 2015

Blue-Green Algae – How Today’s Actions or Inactions Determine Lakes’ Future Health

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been alerted to a couple of articles that confirm my belief that we need to be taking much more aggressive and timely action to decrease the amount of phosphorus  we are letting run-off into our streams, rivers and lakes. The reason – the  phosphorus  that is not being used this year to help blue-green algae grow, may be sinking into the lake sediments and remaining available for algae growth in future years. So our slow action now may be building the kind of legacy that our children and grandchildren will not thank us for.
The first article references a study by Kathryn Cottingham, a biologist at Dartmouth College, with backing from the National Science Foundation that was published in Ecosphere. The study challenges the idea that the blue-green algae growing in current years is a direct result of the phosphorus entering the waters that same year. It reviewed lakes in New England along with data from other lakes, including Lake of the Woods, which is in my home territory. Researchers have known for few years now that the algae blooms in Lake of the Woods are growing despite significant reductions in the annual inputs of phosphorus from industrial sources on the Rainy River. It seems this is happening in other lakes as well adding to the idea that legacy phosphorus is part of the problem.

Lake of the Woods near Keewatin

Lake of the Woods near Keewatin

The second article describes a conference that is being held at Bowling Green State University in April to highlight the growing problem of toxic algae fouling lakes around the world. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration( NOAA) and the National Science Foundation are the two  partners behind the symposium, which is to include algae scientists from China and Austria as featured speakers, as well as experts from across North America.

I’m glad to see this attention being paid to the blue-green algae problem and I hope it will spur faster action. As I’ve said many times before, we do know how to remove much more phosphorus from our human wastewater and from many other sources. The main problem is getting our leaders to do the hard part – committing the $$ and the legislation needed.
Over the many years I spent managing organizations, I often counselled staff that if we don’t deal with the problem now it will just become bigger and harder to resolve in the end. That is exactly what I see happening with this threat to our lakes.

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