It’s been nearly seven years since the 2014 harmful algal bloom crisis. Lake Erie is one of the world’s largest freshwater resources, and yet for three hot summer days, drinking water was cut off for nearly half a million people around the Toledo area. What happened? Why did it happen, what did we learn and how are we fixing it?
The HAB issue has been around for ages. The Toledo region had once been a great ecological “kidney” (AKA the Great Black Swamp) where water was retained in a clay-based basin and where vegetation and trees filtered and absorbed slow-moving nutrients in the water. The dramatic transformation within a short span of fifty years from the mid 1800s to the early 1900s—from swamp forests to urban and agriculture fields of corn, soy, wheat, hay and the like—has had huge implications on how water moves down the watershed. Today, the region is only farmable and livable because of the thousands of miles of drainage tiles and ditches that funnel sediment and water (and therefore nutrients) rapidly into western basin of Lake Erie, feeding the massive algal blooms there that contribute to the water’s toxicity. One major tributary, the Maumee River, drains a total of 5,024 square miles in Ohio and flows through 18 counties.
Stay tuned as we navigate the complexities in balancing the needs of our modern existence and the resources we rely on and, perhaps much too often, take for granted.
This series is brought to you in part by the First Solar Corporate Charitable Fund of the Great Toledo Community Foundation. As a recipient of their Civic Engagement and Environmental Impact Grant, Midstory engages in research and storytelling initiatives that deliver vital information, statistics and narratives on timely issues, such as the water crisis.