Last August hundreds of thousands of residents of Ohio were told not to drink the water from their taps, and a state of Emergency was declared by the governor, when the water supply for Toledo and surrounding areas was contaminated with a harmful toxin produced by microcystis algae.
Their water crisis caught many residents off guard, even though the rising algal levels had been widely reported in the media in the weeks preceding the crisis.
There were, however, broad assurances that the water plants could deal with the level of toxins expected (See 7/24 Toledo Blade report Toxin level found in area water not harmful to residents), and so the emergency declaration left thousands unprepared and scrambling for safe water over the weekend (see Water crisis grips hundreds of thousands in Toledo area, state of emergency declared).
Blue-green algae - essentially pond scum – has been viewed as a growing problem in Lake Erie since 1995, and in 2013 caused the temporary shutdown of a small water plant along the shores of lake Erie, albeit only affecting a couple of thousand customers.
On July 10th of last year, NOAA issued the following warning – three weeks before the crisis fulminated.
Overall bloom will be smaller than in 2013 with varying impacts across lake’s western basin
July 10, 2014
Yesterday NOAA issued a new forecast for the summer of 2015, and it predicts an even larger Algal bloom than last year, although its ultimate impact will depend upon where winds and currents drive them.
Heavy June rains causing heavy nutrient runoff into lake basin
This image shows the extent of the Lake Erie algal bloom at its height in 2013 (top) and 2014 (bottom). Orange and red show concentrations that may cause scums and other issues. Different areas are affected in the two years because of wind patterns. The data came from NASA's Aqua satellite and was analyzed by NOAA's Center for Coastal Ocean Science. (Credit: NOAA)
July 9, 2015
NOAA and its research partners, using an ensemble modeling approach, predict that the 2015 western Lake Erie harmful algal bloom season will be among the most severe in recent years and could become the second most severe behind the record-setting 2011 bloom.
The effects of the cyanobacterial blooms include a higher cost for cities and local governments to treat their drinking water, as well as risk to swimmers in high concentration areas, and a nuisance to boaters when blooms form. These effects will vary in locations and severity with winds, and will peak in September.
The bloom will be expected to measure 8.7 on the severity index with a range from 8.1 to potentially as high as 9.5. This is more severe than the last year’s 6.5, and may equal or exceed 2013, which had the second worse bloom in this century. The severity index runs from a high of 10, which corresponds to the 2011 bloom, the worst ever observed, to zero. A severity above 5.0 indicates blooms of particular concern.
“While we are forecasting a severe bloom, much of the lake will be fine most of the time. The bloom will develop from west to east in the Lake Erie Western Basin, beginning this month. It is important to note that these effects will vary with winds, and will peak in September,” said Richard Stumpf, Ph.D., NOAA’s ecological forecasting applied research lead at NCCOS, who formally presented the forecast in a media event and science presentation at Ohio State University’s Stone Lab on Lake Erie today.
This graphic illustrates, thru the red bar, what the projected HABS bloom range for 2015 will be in comparison to the final bloom size of blooms over the previous 15 years. The wider portion of the red bar is the most likely scenario based on current nutrient loading data. (Credit: NOAA)
“This is the fourth seasonal harmful algal bloom outlook for Lake Erie that NOAA has issued,” said Holly Bamford, Ph.D., assistant NOAA administrator for the National Ocean Service performing duties of the assistant secretary of commerce for conservation and management. “NOAA’s ecological forecasting initiative, including this Lake Erie seasonal forecast, the NOAA weekly HAB bulletin, and the experimental early season HABs Tracker, provide science-based information that water managers, public health officials, and others need to make critical decisions to protect the health of their communities, understand environmental impacts, and mitigate damages to recreational activities that are a vital part of the region’s economy.”
The 2015 seasonal forecast uses models that translate spring nutrient loading into predicted algal blooms in the western basin of Lake Erie. After a relatively dry April and May, the heavy rains in June produced record discharge and nutrient loadings from the Maumee River, which runs through Toledo, Ohio as well as northeastern Indiana, will result in a more severe bloom. This marks the fourth year that NOAA has issued an annual outlook for western Lake Erie.
To provide more real-time information during the bloom season, NOAA has produced HAB bulletins for western Lake Erie since 2008. The bulletins will continue at the twice-weekly frequency established during last season’s Toledo event, and can be received by a subscription to the NOAA Lake Erie HAB Bulletin.
Disasters, large and small, come in many forms and can quickly disrupt essential services like water, power, transportation, and even communications. While not as dramatic as a hurricane, tornado, earthquake or a wildfire - slow motion natural disasters like algae blooms, heat waves, and droughts can have serious (even deadly) impacts as well.
Basic kit : NWS radio, First Aid Kit, Lanterns, Water & Food & cash for 3 Days minimum
The key to dealing with any emergency is knowing what to do, and already having the resources you need already in place. If being forewarned is being forearmed, then no one whose water supply comes from lake Erie should be going into this summer season without enough stored water to last for at least several days.
For more information on emergency preparedness. Some of my preparedness blogs include: