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Lake Erie’s Algae Problem Visible From Space

A satellite image of Lake Erie on July 31, with Toledo bordering the far left corner of the lake. Toledo's drinking water had raised levels of the chemical microcystin, a likely result of algae blooms fed by runoff contaminated by farm fertilizer and sewage-treatment sludge. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Algae sitting in Lake Erie created a crisis this weekend when a ban was imposed on drinking tap water in Toledo after tests showed that toxins were at dangerous levels. Toledo Mayor Michael Collins lifted the ban Monday morning after tests showed the water was again safe to drink.

Health officials found the lake, which supplies most of the area's drinking water, may have been affected by a harmful algal bloom.

Algal blooms in Lake Erie are fairly common in the summer, state officials said, but it is unusual for them to warn people not to drink water.

Algae levels have been getting worse in the western part of the lake and this year were particularly bad due to the fact that winds have been light and the algae has not been disturbed.

Image: Algae is seen near the City of Toledo water intake crib
Algae is seen near the City of Toledo water intake crib, on Aug. 3, 2014, in Lake Erie, about 2.5 miles off the shore of Curtice, Ohio. Haraz N. Ghanbari / AP

Rapid increases in algae levels are caused by high amounts of nitrogen and phosphorous, which can come from runoff of excessively fertilized fields and lawns or from malfunctioning septic systems or livestock pens, officials said.

Collins said he will seek help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to cover the cost of the crisis because the city "took a huge hit from a financial perspective."

The federal government also will need to address the long-simmering issue of algae, along with Toledo's antiquated water treatment system, Collins said.

— Reuters