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Sen. Rob Portman gets bird's-eye view of Lake Erie algal blooms

Cleveland Plain Dealer | D'Arcy Egan | July 24

OAK HARBOR, Ohio – Sen. Rob Portman didn't have to wait long on Friday to catch a couple of walleye, or to see the predicted harmful algal blooms already plaguing Western Lake Erie this summer.

With fishing guide Dave Spangler of Dr. Bugs Charters at the helm, Portman and a small group of officials motored a few miles from Green Cove Marina to an area on a nearby reef complex. Spangler positioned the boat for a short drift in water filled with suspended algae.

It only took a couple of casts for Portman to hook the first walleye of the day. As the group caught walleye, sheepshead and a few round gobies, the amount of algae grew under the hot July sun.

It wasn't until Spangler headed back to the docks so Portman could host the Lake Erie Water Quality Roundtable at noon that the group would see the consequences of torrential rains in June and early July. Those rains carried agricultural fertilizer and manure into the Maumee River basin, fertilizing Lake Erie algal blooms instead of farm crops.

The waters dingy with suspended algae had begun to change. There were now massive surface areas coated with a noxious green slime.

It was a full-fledged bloom, and surprisingly early in the summer.

Rick Stumpf, an oceanographer and algae bloom specialist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), had predicted this would happen on July 9 at the annual HAB forecast held at Ohio Sea Grant's Stone Laboratory on Gibraltar Island. Because of the record rains, this year's sliming of Lake Erie was forecast to be almost as bad as the devastating 2011 bloom, said Stumpf.

That bloom fueled by heavy spring rains didn't arrive until August. It was at its worst in September and October.

This year's bloom is arriving early. It has spread around the Western Basin from the Catawba Peninsula to the Bass Islands and Pelee Island in Ontario waters.

"This is going to be a tough year for HABs," said Portman, who had staffer Kevin Hoggatt document the sliming of Lake Erie with a camera-equipped hovercraft.

"This is a reason why federal, state and local partnerships are so critical in stopping the HABs," he said. "We need agencies such as NOAA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop plans to monitor and respond, and to mitigate them.

"We allocated $12 million from the Farm Bill to handle runoff, bringing in some of the best resources to find where the nitrogen and phosphorus are coming from. We've got EPA to help cities like Toledo with their water treatment plants to treat the levels of toxicity."

Read more from The Cleveland Plain Dealer here.