After a visit to Michigan last week, I stopped in a convenience store outside Toledo Sunday morning to purchase a cup of coffee for the drive home.
But a sign on the coffee counter warned: “Due to water issues, no coffee will be sold until water advisory is lifted.”
It turns out that a portion of Lake Erie outside Toledo, where the city draws its water, was covered with a blue-green algae that can produce a toxin called microcystin — which periodically shows up in the Chesapeake as well.
That made the water off-limits for roughly half-a-million people, including the store I happened to stop at.
The likely culprit for the bloom, according to news reports, was nutrients, particularly phosphorus from the Maumee River which drains agricultural land in Ohio and Indiana before running through Toledo and entering Lake Erie.
City officials were on the radio news calling for action. If someone cares to act, there’s already a plan.
As Ireportedearlier this year, the International Joint Commission, a panel of experts that makes policy recommendations regarding the Great Lakes to the United States and Canada, recently issued a report expressing concern about the increasing amounts of phosphorus entering the smallest of the Great Lakes — especially those coming from the Maumee River — and called for a Chesapeake Bay-style cleanup.
The Toledo experience, along with therecent spate of vibrio infectionsin the Chesapeake Bay, are stark reminders that nutrients don’t just cause problems for fish — they create conditions that threaten humans, too.