“Don’t Touch the Water!”

By , August 5, 2014

News from America’s heartland last weekend could not have been worse. Toledo, Ohio and any surrounding area served by Toledo’s municipal water system, could not to drink, or even touch their municipal water! A toxic algae bloom on Lake Erie alienated a population of several hundred thousands from one of life’s most basic necessities.

I cannot imagine what it must have been like. Area stores quickly ran out of bottled water. Amazingly, news reports said people reacted calmly for the most part. Apparently, they’ve been through it before; they’ve experienced several of these blooms, reportedly caused by industrial agriculture run off, in the past. Their officials say it’s time to find a permanent solution to their ongoing problem. Considering that their water source comprises 20% of the entire planet’s drinking water, one hopes that they get around to that little project as soon as possible.

I’m surprised that the major media organizations didn’t follow this story as they would an assassination, an afternoon drive in a white Bronco, or perhaps even a Kardashian wedding. It seems like pretty big news to me.

Here in Alaska, we’re dealing with algae blooms as well. “Red tide,” the organism that causes Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP) becomes more common as the oceans and climate warm. As has been predicted for a long time, increasing PSP levels make many of our seafoods unsafe to eat. A biologist testing levels in our area recently announced the highest level of PSP-causing algae ever recorded, in Viking Cove, which is immediately adjacent to our Mud Bay. All summer, we’ve noticed a muddy red in the water, like great smears of blood. Someone told Aly this is the red tide itself, now concentrated enough to be visible to the casual observer!

Mostly associated with filter feeding mollusks, particularly mussels and clams (see Mussels and Moonlight), it’s affecting sandlance, a major food fish for a wide variety of fish and sea birds. Feeding on zooplankton, they seem particularly vulnerable to PSP. Apparently, it can kill the sandlance; the biologist conducting the study put up posters around town asking people to turn in any dead sandlance or sea birds found. I haven’t seen any warnings against eating fish, thankfully, nor have I heard any warnings against hunting birds as the season approaches. And, no one has warned us not to touch the water.

I’ve spoken before about my concerns over water safety and security (see Let It Rain). I find the news from Toledo chilling, to say the least! I predict we’ll see a lot more trouble from algae blooms of all

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