Harmful algal blooms not likely on Lake Michigan

FILE - In this Aug. 3, 2014 file photo, the City of Toledo water intake crib is surrounded by algae in Lake Erie, about 2.5 miles off the shore of Curtice, Ohio. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari, File)


MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — Lake Michigan isn’t likely to see harmful algal blooms like the one that happened last year on Lake Erie, but West Michigan’s inland lakes are at a higher risk.

Dr. Alan Steinman of the Grand Valley State University Robert B. Annis Water Resources Institute says not all algae are bad. In fact, algae produce half of the oxygen on the planet.

But blue-green algae can be toxic and potentially hazardous. That’s the type of algae forming on Lake Erie. When blooms form, the water looks like waves of pea soup. It can stretch for hundreds of square miles for as many as two weeks. Last year, a bloom left hundreds of thousands of people who rely on Lake Erie without water in their homes for two days.

FILE- This Aug. 3, 2014 file photo shows Algae near the City of Toledo water intake crib, in Lake Erie, about 2.5 miles off the shore of Curtice, Ohio. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari, File)
(This Aug. 3, 2014 file photo shows Algae near the City of Toledo water intake crib, in Lake Erie.)

According to Steinman, algae need three things to bloom: sunlight, warmth, and nutrients. He said Lake Michigan is currently low on nutrients, keeping the risk of dangerous blooms down. The lake also is much slower to warm up each summer than Erie.

“Lake Michigan is a much larger lake, a lot more volume of water. It’s not going to warm up nearly as much as Lake Erie does,” Steinman explained.

Inland lakes like Macatawa, Muskegon and White Lake are at a greater risk of seeing algal blooms.

“When they form in the inner lakes, they can form half of Muskegon Lake, half of Lake Macatawa, and they are really really thick,” Steinman said.

These inland lakes not only get warmer, but also have more nutrients — like phosphorus and nitrogen, which can come from runoff from yards and fields after rainstorms — for algae to feed on.

Once a bloom starts, it is hard to stop.

“So what we want to do is to reduce the amount of nutrients coming off of our landscape to make sure these ground river-mouth lakes aren’t susceptible to blooms, even if Lake Michigan isn’t as susceptible,” Stienman said.

The best thing to do is limit the runoff that makes it into local lakes and rivers.

“The best key is preventative medicine. We need to make sure we are having best management practices to reduce the amount of nutrients getting into these systems,” Steinman said.

Some tips to help keep our lakes clean include watching your storm water runoff:

  • Don’t fertilize your lawn right before a heavy rainstorm.
  • Wash your car in your grass instead of your driveway.
  • Plant filtration plants in your yard to help clean the water that seeps into the ground.

All the water that heads down a storm drain heads right for your local lakes and rivers. It is not filtered. Try to keep that water clean.

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