CLEVELAND — The big green blob that is the 2020 Lake Erie algal bloom is rapidly expanding across the western basin. Although the bloom is expected to only be moderate this year, it will undoubtedly affect tourism and recreation for coastline communities. However, the owner of a Cleveland-based company believes he may have a permanent solution if funding is allocated for more research.
Much like anything else in life, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. Although important compounds that help fertilize crops, the phosphorus and nitrogen that pours into the Lake Erie watershed each year from agricultural runoff is certainly no exception, said Dr. Brian Alford, the assistant director at Ohio State University's Stone Laboratory.
"The community of algae that live in Lake Erie will take advantage of that in the same way the plants would have taken advantage of it in the fields," Dr. Alford said. "But in the lake, the algae take advantage of it and they will use those nutrients to grow and reproduce and make more of themselves. When you have too much of that happening, when that algae dies it can consume a lot of the oxygen in the water."
Although the problem is simple in its explanation, the solution to it isn't, Dr. Alford said.
"It's an extraordinary challenge because the Lake Erie basin itself is millions of acres. Millions of acres of land are used in agriculture," Dr. Alford said. "It's very difficult to get that amount of people over that large of a landscape to all do the same types of mitigation."
Cleveland-based company, Balance America LLC, may offer a solution or at least a way to mitigate the annual harmful algal blooms, said owner Dwayne Dillingham.
In the most simple of terms, Dillingham said his system gives weight to the nitrogen and phosphorus in the water, causing the compounds to sink to the bottom. Once the phosphorus and nitrogen are at the bottom of the waterway, a special type of bacteria consumes it, preventing the compounds from reaching Lake Erie.
The system, Dillingham said, has been used with success in China and Africa but it so far as not been used in the United States.
"Our waterways are the critical part of our infrastructure so we have to pay attention to it. Let's face it, without water we're only going to live for seven days. This is a real problem," Dillingham said. “If you eliminate the food source, that's the most critical thing. The food source is what [algae] takes to grow.”
Dillingham said the system has received preliminary approval from state agriculture officials to test it but has not been able to secure enough funding, which would likely be hundreds of thousands of dollars, to actually begin testing and development.
Although testing, research and development won’t be cheap, the actual implementation of the system should be cost-effective and relatively simple to implement, Dillingham said. His system requires much less space than wetlands, which are one of the more common phosphorus and nitrogen mitigation techniques.
“We lose millions and millions every year on fishing charters, everything that goes into it,” Dillingham said. “Nobody wants to go into water that is green and slimy or there is an alert. Let's face it, we lose millions of dollars in tax revenue. The money they're losing would pay for the system. How much longer are we going to wait? That's the question.”