Lake Erie 'Dead Zones' are Impacting Northeast Ohio Drinking Water Every Summer

Lake Erie 'Dead Zones' are Impacting Northeast Ohio Drinking Water Every Summer (2)
Eric Sandy, Scene
A report by Tony Briscoe in the Chicago Tribune last month explained how "dead zones" in Lake Erie are leading to an increase in manganese levels in the local water supply. These dead zones, largely the result of dying algae from expansive algae blooms, are forcing Cleveland's Water Department to experiment with treatment in real time to make water safe enough for drinking and clean enough to do laundry. 

The issue was covered in 2018 by Plain Dealer environmental reporter James McCarty, who retired early this year. But as climate change worsens, the dead zones will continue to expand. 

Dead Zones are low-oxygen areas formed when algae and other bacteria die, fall to the lake bottom, and rot. The amount of this bacteria and the corresponding size and scale of the dead zones have substantially increased with the increase in agricultural runoff and urban wastewater.

The dead zones persist throughout the warm weather months. Thanks to climate change, "warm weather months" are starting earlier and ending later than in years past, and occasional brown water has become expected in some communities near the lake.

The expansion of the dead zones affects the drinking water for the 1.4 million people serviced by the Cleveland Water Department. Manganese and other heavy metals are released into the water when the low-oxygen areas interact with the lake bed.

Manganese, the Tribune story reports, not only causes water discoloration, (and has led to warnings about laundry stains), "but also has been linked to permanent neurological issues."

The story describes new monitoring efforts conducted by both the Cleveland Water Department and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), which have led to more accurate real-time alerts about increased manganese levels in the water supply.

On eight separate occasions in 2019, lakefront communities have been advised about hazardous water conditions. In one instance, on Aug. 26, 21 communities were alerted.

The story warns that larger algae blooms and longer summers will continue to exacerbate the problem, and that even with more research and better forecasting systems, residents remain concerned.

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About The Author

Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
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