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Warmer Climate Worsens Algae Blooms

Our warming climate is producing dangerous algae blooms in major North Carolina reservoirs.

These blooms are the explosive, visible algae growth in water which has been polluted by high levels of nutrient pollution. These excess nutrients come from sewage discharges, runoff from fertilized cropland and animal waste, septic system leakage, and even over-fertilized suburban yards and golf courses. 

Certain varieties of algae common in our region produce toxins which can be dangerous to fish, wildlife, and humans. Even non-toxic varieties in high concentrations can harm waterbodies, dying when the nutrients are used up and sucking the oxygen out of the water as they decay.

There have been more than 300 public reports of algae blooms in North Carolina lakes this year, including over 100 in June alone. Not coincidentally, this June was the hottest and driest in state history. 

Professor Hans Paerl of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Institute of Marine Sciences agrees the warming climate shares the blame for growing numbers of toxic algae blooms. “The blooms are increasing, particularly in freshwater systems,” said Paerl. “Climate change complicates things even more.” 

Stanly County’s Badin Lake and Durham County’s Jordan Lake, two major sources of drinking water, have been especially impacted this summer. 

The Conservation Council of North Carolina, our predecessor organization, was actively involved in the citizen coalition warning the then-proposed Jordan Lake Reservoir would have a major algae bloom problem. Unfortunately, proponents of the reservoir’s creation disregarded those warnings. Efforts to control the lake’s excess nutrient inputs have been sporadic ever since. Both local governments and agricultural lobby groups have fought stronger regulations, successfully pushing our state legislature’s pro-polluter leadership to further weaken pollution control laws and starve enforcement agencies of staff and resources.

As the climate crisis grows, North Carolina needs more environmental champions in our General Assembly.

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