Every year, an explosion of microscopic life reigns over western Lake Erie, forming a green slick of algae and bacteria so massive and vibrant that it can be seen from space.
The harmful algae bloom slimes fishing boats, paints beaches in toxins and engulfs water intake cribs. In 2014, it left 400,000 people without drinking water for three days after toxins infiltrated Toledo’s water system. Then-Gov. John Kasich declared a state of emergency and called in the National Guard to distribute bottled water in an incident that served notice that drinking water from Lake Erie was in peril.
This year, the bloom was among the most severe and toxic since scientists began keeping track in the early 2000s. At its peak, it coated around 620 square miles of Lake Erie’s surface waters, an area more than twice the size of Chicago, according to satellite imagery. The sheer weight of blue-green bacteria making up the bloom — forecast to be around 46,000 metric tons — was expected to be a new record.