Toxic Algae Blooms on the Rise Thanks to Agricultural Run-Off, Severe Weather

A new analysis shows a growing scourge of harmful algae blooms across the country. Andy Buchsbaum with the National Wildlife Federation, which studied the issue, says 21 states – including Indiana – issued health warnings about toxic algae this summer, covering about 150 locations on lakes, rivers and reservoirs.

“Normal algae is bad enough. It gums up your boat motor. It’s yucky to swim in and it’s unpleasant, but this toxic algae actually threatens people’s health, and threatens the health of animals and pets that go in the water. So it’s really something to be alarmed about about that we’re experiencing this many across the country,” said Buchsbaum.

Buchsbaum says the increase in the toxic algae across the country, explains is two-fold, starting with more fertilizer run off, especially from farm fields. Nutrients feed the algae.

“There is more and more forms of phosphorus and nitrogen that are running off from a variety of sources, but particularly from agriculture, from farmers’ fields. And we also know that there are more severe storms that are occurring. That means there’s larger pulses of rainwater particularly that push these nutrients into these water bodies,” said Buchsbaum.

The Indiana State Department of Health warns of possible high levels of blue-green algae at many of Indiana’s reservoirs and lakes and cautions against coming in contact with it. The health department recommends bathing in warm, soapy water after a day on the water and urges people to keep pets and livestock away. The algae can be toxic if ingested. Buchsbaum says since this is a national problem, it requires a national solution. He says that should include standards for nutrients in water bodies, along with resources in the Farm Bill to give farmers added incentives for being good stewards of the land and water.