The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Action needed to stem algae blooms in Great Lakes: report

  • Print

TORONTO - Urgent action is needed to quell seasonal algae blooms that plague the Great Lakes and pose health risks for nearby communities, said a report released on Wednesday.

Algae blooms are caused by an excess of nutrients such as phosphorus, which can cause algae to grow out of control and partially cover the Great Lakes in blue-green film in the summer months.

The report — issued by the environmental groups Environmental Defence and Freshwater Future — outlined steps for reducing nutrient pollution in the Great Lakes.

Author Nancy Goucher said algae blooms can be toxic, contaminating municipal water sources.

"Toxic algal blooms can make water undrinkable and unswimmable. They can suffocate fish and they can cost us a lot of money in terms of reduced property value, lost tourism revenue," she said, adding that blooms can also raise the cost of water treatment for municipalities.

The water system of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River holds nearly 20 per cent of the world's surface fresh water.

In 2011, the largest algae mass on record formed in the Lake Erie's western basin, eventually stretching more than 160 kilometres from Toledo to Cleveland, Ohio.

But algae blooms are an issue in lakes across Canada, prompting water quality warnings throughout the summer.

Goucher's report, titled Clean, Not Green: Tackling Algal Blooms in the Great Lakes, outlined a four-point plan to deal with the issue.

She said the most important recommendation suggests the Ontario government look at economic incentives to encourage farmers to actively reduce the run-off of phosphorus, which washes into the lakes and contributes to algae blooms.

"Without phosphorus algae can't grow," she said, calling it the key ingredient in the recipe for toxic algae.

Goucher added that researchers found one of the major barriers to reducing nutrient pollution was a lack of financial resources for farmers.

The report suggested charging businesses and the public fees for polluting the lakes, and then using the money for clean-up programs.

One bloom on Lake Erie earlier this summer resulted in a temporary ban on water use for some 400,000 residents in parts of Ohio and Michigan.

A state of emergency was declared after tests showed the water was contaminated.

"When you drink contaminated water... it can give you stomach aches, it can cause nausea, it can give you fever," Goucher said, adding that at high doses, the algae toxins can cause acute liver failure.

She said swimming in contaminated water is also unpleasant, possibly causing skin irritation and rashes.

"There's a number of different reasons why we want to make sure algae blooms are not blanketing the Great Lakes," she said.

The head of a citizens group along Lake Erie said in a statement the American water contamination serves as a "wake up call."

"Because we live on a peninsula with Lake Erie as our southern boundary, the lake's health has a major impact on all of us in Windsor and Essex County. It goes without saying that we are all concerned about keeping the lake healthy," said Glenn Stresman of Windsor Essex Community Foundation.

Along with economic incentives to stem phosphorus pollution, the report calls for more investment in science and research, a new policy framework and building "water smart" cities, which would involve regulating storm water run-off.

Follow @clareclancy on Twitter

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


It’s the End Of the Term And They Know It, Part Two

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A female Mallard duck leads a group of duckings on a morning swim through the reflections in the Assiniboine River at The Forks Monday.     (WAYNE GLOWACKI/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS) Winnipeg Free Press  June 18 2012
  • Goslings with some size head for cover Wednesday afternoon on Commerce Drive in Tuxedo Business Park - See Bryksa 30 Goose Challenge- Day 12- May 16, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos


Will you get out and vote for a new mayor and council?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google