by Tom Damm
When a harmful algal bloom in western Lake Erie contaminated the Toledo area water supply two years ago, my first thoughts turned to my niece Jen and her family.
They were among the hundreds of thousands warned not to drink their water, cook with it, give it to their pets or ingest it any way after tests found the toxin, microcystin, above the standard for consumption.
Jen found out about the water ban when she turned on the TV at around 8 a.m. By then, there were scenes of panicky residents buying out cases of water from store shelves.
Two days later the water was declared safe to drink again. But the weekend incident served as a wake-up call for many, including members of the Toledo Rotary Club.
The 400-member club – the world’s 11th largest – is putting its considerable people power and resources behind the challenge of preventing another nutrient-driven outbreak of blue-green algae in the lake.
The club invited EPA to its signature event – the second annual Rotary Lake Erie Watershed Conference – to explain to the 300 attendees how excess nutrients – nitrogen and phosphorus – are being reduced in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
He reminded them that they’re not alone – that nutrient pollution is a national problem, a threat to public health, aquatic life and the economy, and to solve it we need “all hands on deck,” including civic groups.
All 50 states have reported harmful algal blooms, and recent research suggests the problem is getting worse as a result of climate change.
About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection Division.