WASHINGTON -- The worst algae bloom in history severely contaminated the waters of western Lake Erie this summer, prompting environmentalists to say Tuesday that the decades-long effort to clean up the lake could be undone by agricultural runoff and the growth of invasive species.
While the algae bloom has not yet damaged the Buffalo end of the lake, experts said the problem could eventually reduce the local population of walleye, a favorite of fishermen.
Moreover, the farm runoff that promotes the growth of algae in the western part of the lake and the zebra and quagga mussels at the lake's bottom are combining to create problems that can't necessarily be seen by the naked eye.
Lake Erie may look clear and clean in the Buffalo area, "but it's an optical illusion," said Tom Marks, New York director of the Great Lakes Sport Fishing Council.
The algae bloom is larger than any the lake has experienced in the 1960s, when algae was so pervasive that experts declared the lake "dead."
Starting at the lake's Michigan shore, the bloom extended eastward to the area north of Cleveland, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported last month.
The algae bloom, 2 feet thick in spots, prompted beach advisories throughout the lake's western basin. Toxins in the algae tested at 1,000 times the World Health Organization's standards for drinking water.
That contaminated water remains far away from Buffalo for a simple reason: Lake Erie is shallower at its western end.
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