It may be unicellular and small, but don't underestimate algae. When the plant multiples out of control--thanks to agricultural runoff from livestock manure and chemical fertilizers--algae blooms have proven to be toxic humans, animals, and, even, the economy.
"There's very few places now that are not being impacted by harmful algal blooms."
The effects of algal blooms are seen everywhere from the waterways in the Great Lakes to the Chesapeake Bay. Reservoirs in California's Central Valley have also shown signs of toxic algae blooms.
And issues stemming from too much of the pungent, green blobs continue to plague communities in the United States, despite the government's nearly $2 billion handout aimed to help farmers improve their irrigation systems. In 2016, toxic algae blooms caused Florida's governor to declare a state of emergency. In Utah, more than 100 people became sick after swimming in the state's largest freshwater lake. But that's not all. In Michigan and Ohio, residents were forced to drink bottled water for two days in 2014 after algae toxins contaminated the municipal water supply.
The algae problem has even began to infiltrate the tourism industry--affecting small businesses. Charter boat Captain Dave Spangler of Lake Erie said his fishing excursion company has taken a plunge thanks to what's in the water.
"If you look at that beach out there, there's absolutely nobody down there, because there's signs up that says, 'Do no go in the water.'"
So if the problem has been scaled to alarming proportions, then why can't the government do more?
Thanks to a loophole in the Clean Water Act of 1972, the government isn't able to regulate agricultural runoff in the same way it oversees pollution from sewage plants and factories. That means the government cannot force farmers to comply with certain agricultural standards. Some farmers, like Jerry Whipple of Ohio, recognize the importance of monitoring agricultural runoff, but not all feel that same sense of urgency.
"Soil is a living, breathing entity that we have. It's important to take care of it. If everybody worked hard and did their thing, I think we can get the lake cleaned up, cleared up."
Besides being unable to regulate the overall environmental concern, the government programs may not even be working, an analysis conducted by the Associated Press suggests. For example, between 2009 and 2016, $51 million went to help some of the most algae-ridden areas, like the watershed flowing into western Lake Erie. But it was during those seven years, however, that the lake saw some of the largest growth in algae blooms--the largest appearing in 2015, which measured the size of New York City.
The invasive algae shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, indirect runoff from agriculture is the biggest source of water pollution in the United States.
"We really need to incentive and light a fire under a quicker adoption of practices," Jordan Lubetkin, regional communications manager of the National Wildlife Federation said. "And that can really only come from accountability. And that can only come from regulations and policies that mandate that farmers embrace those practices."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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