Algae Blooms and Cyanobacteria

            It has become a part of the season on Lake Champlain over the past few summers.  Blue-green algae blooms take over the recreation spots of Lake Champlain and make the waters look as if there was a painting accident.  This past August the unexpected death of a family dog swimming in the St. Albans Bay was a cause for alarm as he was struck with paralysis within 20 minutes after getting out of the water.  The family’s loss was a reminder to those using the lake that greater vigilance should be had when swimming late in the summer (burlingtonfreepress.com).
            Warmer late summer lake water combined with phosphorus runoff are the perfect conditions for the bacteria to bloom.  “Cyanobacteria are like bears, both are a part of the natural environment, and become a problem when we feed them”, explains James Haney a biologist at the University of New Hampshire (adirondackalmanack.com).  This is the root of the issue in the Champlain Valley where agriculture is the main industry.  The Champlain Valley collects mass amounts of fertilizer run off and funnels it directly in to the lake.  The algae blooms are dense clouds that float in the water that can smell and are very unpleasant to swim through.  The cyanobacteria is a natural part of the ecosystem but usually exist at undetected levels.  They only become a threat to wildlife and recreation in the presence of fertilizer pollution (adironackalmanack.com).
           The EPA has created “Total Maximum Daily Loads” or TMDL’s as way to cap the maximum amount of phosphorus entering the Lake (Watershed Management Division).  This is a good start to improving the quality of water in Lake Champlain, as agricultural fertilizer is the largest point sources of pollution in the basin.  An option to take phosphorus run off mitigation to the next level would be to adopt a cap and trade approach to fertilizer distribution by farmers.  The state could pass a max cap of fertilizer permitted for farms to use and thus create a market for the fertilizer allowances between farms that may use less.  Fertilizer runoff isn’t the only factor polluting the waters of Lake Champlain and other lakes surrounding the Adirondacks.  To protect the waters, greater measures must be taken to help residents properly dispose of pharmaceutical waste, infrastructure improvements should be made to prepare for increased storm volatility, and perforated and non toxic forms of blacktop should be used for roadways.
Works Cited
Bard, Joel B. “Dog’s Death Fuels Lake CyanoBacteria Scare.” Burlington Free Press 2015. Print.
Guest Contributor. “Cyanobacteria: A Primordial Lake Monster.” (October 15, 2015)Print.
Watershed Management Division. “TMDL Information.”Web. <http://www.watershedmanagement.vt.gov/mapp/htm/mp_tmdl.htm>.

1 thought on “Algae Blooms and Cyanobacteria

  1. This is such an important issue. Even when algal blooms aren't directly harmful to humans, they can cause huge population booms or collapses in fish which can destroy waterways. Thanks for sharing a really important, but often overlooked, element to human-induced environmental change.

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