Research may help reduce blooms

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasts a “significant” algae bloom for Lake Erie this summer.

“NOAA and its research partners predict that western Lake Erie will have a significant bloom of cyanobacteria, a toxic blue-green algae, during the 2014 bloom season in late summer,” the agency announced Thursday. “However, the predicted bloom is expected to be smaller than last year’s intense bloom, and considerably less than the record-setting 2011 bloom.”

NOAA – which uses data collected by Heidelberg University’s National Center for Water Quality Research to make its forecast – stated harmful algal blooms were common in western Lake Erie between the 1960s and 1980s. But blooms have been increasing in the past decade.

Some scientists and researchers point a finger at the residential and agricultural use of phosphorous, an essential plant nutrient.

So far, 11 states have banned use of phosphorous in lawn fertilizers. Ohio isn’t one of them.

But last year, Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. opted to omit phosphorous from its residential products, and other makers of turf treatments followed suit. Now, the ingredient is tough to find on store shelves. Plenty of nitrogen, plus some potassium, but no phosphate.

If that is the basis for the reduced algae forecast, and the bloom shrinks as predicted, that could be, well, significant. Because Jeff Reutter, who directs the Ohio Sea Grant College program and OSU’s Stone Laboratory, said the lawn-care industry accounts for less than 10 percent of the phosphorus dissolved in U.S. waterways.

That leaves agriculture sources. Within minutes of the NOAA release, Ohio grain organizations issued a statement touting farm-based research.

“The research, already in progress, is monitoring surface runoff and sub-surface drainage from the edges of fields,” the statement read. “How phosphorus moves from fields to waterways has never before been explored in such detail in Ohio.

“The results will be used to identify and rank farming practices that are most effective in keeping nutrients on the field and out of waterways, helping farmers to reduce runoff and improve Ohio’s waterways.”

Phosphates already have been restricted in laundry detergents sold in the Great Lakes basin, and are being voluntarily dropped from lawn feed. Hopefully, the ag research will help farmers use phosphorous more wisely, without government intervention.