It is called “the dead zone,” an area as large as 10,000 square miles of Lake Erie’s surface. The dead zone is filled with oxygen absorbing algae, fed by fertilizer used mostly for farming near the lake or rivers and streams that feed it. The fertilizer contains phosphorus that accelerates the growth. As the algae sucks the oxygen out of the water, fish and other lake dwellers cannot survive. Some die and add to the toxic stew.
This dead zone creates several problems. It often takes up much of the western third of the lake, which ruins tourism and makes lake life for the residents miserable. Another issue is that, in the warmest parts of summer, the zone can grow quickly, and, fortunately, many of them are not near a water supply at risk.
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The NOAA just announced that 2019 would be particularly problematic. In specific: “The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and its research partners are forecasting that western Lake Erie will experience a significant harmful algal bloom (HAB) this summer.” That leads to the biggest problem. Lake Erie provides water for over 11 million people and is particularly crucial to the large cities of Cleveland and Toledo.
Nicole LeBoeuf, acting director of NOAA’s National Ocean Service, described the problems the cities have more specifically, “Communities along Lake Erie rely upon clean, healthy water to fuel their community’s well-being and economic livelihoods.” The toxic lake water is not just a theoretical issue. In August 2014, the trouble was so severe that Toledo had to cut off the water supply to 400,000 people.
Cleveland, which has 2 million residents, is gearing up for the same kind of problem. In March, City Council President Kevin Kelley set up an official group to study and combat the threat. It is clear to them that although the distance from Toledo to Cleveland is over 100 miles, the toxic water already has closed that distance. Cleveland’s water supply is at risk.
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Experts already have announced that the dead zone will grow in July. Cleveland and Toledo face the overwhelming issue of toxic water along their shores and very possibly in their water systems.
People often granted the ability to drink fresh, clean water when they turn on the tap. Some U.S. communities have contaminated water, but, overall, the lack of access to clean water is very small – at 0.8%. This is not the case for many other nations where anywhere from 33% to 81% of the population lacks basic access to clean water – these are the countries with the worst access to drinking water.
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