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Lake Champlain Algae Similar To Toxic Toledo Blooms

Blue Green Algae bloom (file)
Lake Champlain International

People living along the shores of Lake Champlain are taking note of the problems Toledo, Ohio has faced with water contaminated by toxic algae. That’s because the same blue green algae appears in parts of the local lake each summer.

Not all algae blooms are toxic, but some blue green algae blooms are and can cause illness in humans and kill animals.
Last weekend, more than half a million people in Toledo, Ohio were told not to drink or use municipal water because toxic blue green algae had contaminated the city’s water intake system.

Vermont Commissioner of Environmental Conservation David Mears says the Ohio blooms are similar to those in Lake Champlain and concern is warranted.  “On the other hand we have known about this issue for a number of years and the state of Vermont has worked with the public water systems that draw from lake Champlain to insure that they have designed the systems in a way that minimize the risk of drawing in the toxins from blue green algae. We also have a protocol with them to insure that they monitor and test their water when there are blue green algae blooms happening to make sure that in the event that contamination did occur that they could immediately let their residents know that they  should not drink the water.”
So how is the danger from a toxic bloom minimized?  “One of the techniques that water systems have used is to make sure that the intake pipe is at a low level in the lake. The blue green algae blooms tend to concentrate on the surface and that’s where the toxins, if there are toxins associated with those blooms, tend to be.”

Vermont Rural Water Association Executive Director Shaun Fielder agrees that water intakes in Lake Champlain are deeper, but he notes that there has been better capital infrastructure investment in this region.  “There still are definitely some infrastructure improvement needs. That’s an on-going issue for our industry. That’s likely one of the big issues that could be going on with the Toledo incident.”  

Lake Champlain Committee staff scientist Mike Winslow says there are monitoring programs for toxic blooms, but the only strategy to eliminate blue green algae is cutting off its food supply: the phosphorus and nutrients it feeds on.  “That’s not a short term proposition. In some places, Mississquoi Bay in particular, you’ve got 40 percent of the nutrients coming from the sediment. So it’s a long-term battle before that’s ever going to shift back. And I don’t want to underestimate the role of warming summers in leading to these blooms. The types of species that are showing up on Lake Erie, that are showing up on Lake Champlain, thrive under the hotter summer conditions that we’ve had in recent years.”

Lake Champlain International Executive Director James Ehlers says not enough monitoring or testing is done on lake blooms to determine just how serious the algae blooms are.  “There aren’t people out every day. The vast majority of people can’t tell the difference between the various types of algae. There’s even professionals who can’t. And you certainly don’t know if it’s toxic unless you test it. And the vast majority of observation sites never get tested. So, how bad is it? I don’t know. I think it’s totally unacceptable that we know we’re polluting our drinking water source and our recreational waters.”

The Vermont Department of Health posts bloom reports online at its Blue Green Algae Tracker.

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