Sea of concern: Lake Erie's toxic blooms must be curtailed

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Once again, western Lake Erie is fouled by a smelly, green, algae bloom that is not only nasty but also carries a potentially lethal toxin. Now a month old, the bloom has closed beaches, made boating unpleasant, negatively impacted commercial fishing and reduced lakefront property values.

Let's hope communities along that part of the lake, in Ohio and Michigan, can control the bloom and that waterfront communities in Pennsylvania are paying attention.

Action must be taken to reduce the phosphorus runoff that feeds algae growth in Lake Erie. Algae toxins forced a nearly two-day shutdown of a township water plant near Toledo, Ohio, after they were detected recently. Scientists lay much of the blame for the algae blooms on phosphorus runoff from the Maumee River.

The International Joint Commission of the United States and Canada, which drove the historic cleanup of the lake in the 1970s and 1980s, took public comment last week on some new proposals that the U.S. and Canadian governments should adopt.

First, they should develop phosphorus cleanup plans for the western and central basins of Lake Erie. Governments should ban the application of manure and biosolid fertilizer on frozen or snow-covered ground. Scientists say that runoff in the spring of 2011 contributed to a record-setting algae bloom that cost recreational fishing $2.4 million and beach recreation $1.3 million in the western corner of the lake -- economic consequences Pennsylvania must avoid.

To identify polluters, public agencies must monitor the amount of phosphorus coming out of discharge facilities along the lake's watershed.

Erie is the shallowest and the smallest by volume of the five Great Lakes. With 11.6 million people living in its basin, it's also the most densely populated, making it more vulnerable to pollution.

Algae blooms have worsened in the past 20 years, say experts who monitor the lake's water quality. Unless governments act soon, the problem will continue to get worse, producing more deadly toxins that kill fish -- and repel tourists and hurt businesses not just in Michigan and Ohio, but eventually in Pennsylvania and New York.

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