“Hope for a Healthy Lake”

By Abby David
community leadership student

Imagine that it’s a sweltering day in the middle of August. You’re an ambitious athlete training for a marathon, so you decide to go on a run — a 20 mile run.

Beads of sweat run down your back as you approach mile 5, and without a water bottle at hand, you rely only on the water fountains found along the path you’re running. With relief, you spot a water fountain and seek to take a swig, only to see it is covered with a black trash bag. Thinking it was broken, you shrug and keep on running.

Parched from nearly 15 miles of running in the heat, you find another water fountain covered in a black trash bag. At this point, nothing else is on your mind but water, so you tear a hole in the bag and take a drink.

Although your intense thirst was quenched, you realized later than you had ingested water filled with toxins produced by a harmful algal bloom in Lake Erie.

This situation happened in 2014 to Dr. Jason Huntley, an associate professor of microbiology at the University of Toledo, during the Toledo water crisis. Lake Erie has been affected by harmful algal blooms for decades, causing health issues, green water and upset residents. Nutrient runoff and warming waters exacerbate the algal blooms and, with no intervention, the blooms are expected to become worse.

Fight Bacteria with Bacteria
Huntley said the algal bloom in 2014 happened to be located over the intake crib, causing the toxicity to reach dangerous levels. He was one of nearly half a million residents that was unable to use or consume any tap water for three days for the fear of liver issues, neurotoxicity, gastrointestinal distress and skin lesions. After long enough exposure, the toxins could even cause liver cancer.

Huntley, being a curious scientist and a caring citizen of Toledo, was inspired to study this photosynthesizing bacteria and develop solutions for the health and livelihood of the city’s people, as well as to understand its effects. Knowing that the algae production itself couldn’t be stopped, he decided to look at the situation from another angle.

“If you can’t stop nutrients going into Lake Erie, if you can’t really stop the harmful algal blooms — which we can’t — and they’re going to produce the toxin, what if there’s other bacteria in the lake that could use this as an energy source?” said Huntley.

Huntley said that the toxin is made up of amino acids that form energy in organisms. This fact sparked his idea to search for a bacteria in the lake that evolved to use this toxin as an energy source. Huntley’s search was successful.

“We’ve isolated them, we’ve shown that they can actually eat the toxin, and they break it up into non-toxic products,” said Huntley.

Huntley’s hope is to give the isolated bacteria to water treatment plants once enough studies have been conducted. The bacteria would be placed in sand filters and would remove the toxins as the water seeps through the sand. Before this can be done, however, the bacteria needs to be proven as safe. Huntley said that a solution will be available eventually.

“Science takes time and you have to prove things and reprove things and come at it from a second way,” said Huntley. “We’re working to a solution.”

Beyond the Tap
Of course, the safety of tap water is a major priority, but the algae affects citizens’ livelihoods, too. The Lake Erie Western Basin is known for its many attractions — amusement parks, water parks and, of course, the lake. Tourism is what feeds this area, and a healthy lake is essential for some businesses to stay afloat.

Brian Edwards, the director of marketing and communications at Lake Erie Shores and Islands, said that the charter fishing industry has seen the most damage.

“They have had to cancel trips or they’ve had to find different areas in the lake to go fishing because of the blooms, so it’s definitely impacted that group the most in this region,” said Edwards.

Luckily, many of the other attractions in the area have not lost business due to the algae. Edwards said that the Lake Erie area has around 11 million visitors every year.

Edwards said that a common misconception is that all of the lake is covered in algae or that all of the algae is toxic, but that isn’t the case. However, the algae is still an eyesore, even if it isn’t toxic.

“If I were to go someplace and saw the bright green algae bloom right there along the shore, absolutely I wouldn’t go in it and absolutely I wouldn’t allow my kids to go in it, I wouldn’t allow my dog to go in it,” said Edwards.

Edwards said that when there is no algae present, visitors can still do all of the activities they want and enjoy the lake as they always have.

Helping Hands
Because Lake Erie affects so many people, Huntley isn’t the only one trying to help: The Ohio State University, Kent State and University of Cincinnati, are just a few of the many universities working towards a solution. In fact, Ohio State even has an island campus that allows students to work with and study the algae up close.

Max Puckett, 18, of Oak Harbor, Ohio, attended Ohio State’s Stone Laboratory on Gibraltar Island in Lake Erie the past two years. There, he collected samples of different kinds of algae and studied it as a part of his Introduction to Biology class, where the curriculum is heavily focused on Cyanobacteria.

Puckett said that his time at Stone Laboratory has been one of his favorite memories and has learned a lot about the algae, given that the island is in the area that suffers from blooms. He hopes that there are solutions to help the lake and reduce the human impact.

These universities come together, too. Huntley said that conferences are held about the algae, where people bounce ideas and solutions off each other. Reducing nutrient runoff is one option to help by making fertilizer more expensive or adding a tax to keep people from using so much. However, these options are not guaranteed to help.

“I mean, it’s easy to sit at college, or me, sit in my office and talk about what we should do, but that’s why you’ll never hear me say that,” said Huntley. “Because life is complicated.”

There is Hope
There is a long way to go before the lake is healthy again, but it is clear that people care and are striving for solutions. It won’t necessarily be easy, but it will be well worth it.

“Yes, there’s hope, but I think it’s going to require some pretty substantial changes,” said Huntley. “People are going to have to buy in.”


This feature story was written by Abby David, a community leadership student enrolled in the Agricultural Communication 2531 course during the 2019 Autumn Semester. Dr. Joy Rumble instructed the course.

Appalachia Service Project: “A relationship ministry, with a little construction on the side.”


“That is Not Correct” is one of the largest projects ASP has been able to work on through the year-round program. After building walls, restructuring the roof, completing a hug system and siding the house this home will be a warmer, safer and dryer environment for this family.

Bailey Pees
agricultural communication student

COLUMBUS, Ohio – “This organization, since the first time that I came, has obviously changed my life in more ways than one,” said Annalee Posey, center director fellow for Appalachia Service Project. “But this year-round program, specifically, has offered a whole new dynamic to that and has provided me with such personal growth.”

Appalachia Service Project (ASP) is a faith-based ministry with a mission to eradicate substandard housing in Central Appalachia by offering free home repair to individuals suffering from poverty.

ASP facilitates a summer program that requires the help of approximately 200 staffers and serves more than 25 counties. Each center and county vary in some way, but the work ASP does, over the course of this eight-week volunteer program, is only part of the organization’s efforts to fulfill its mission.

Jonesville, Virginia is one of ASP’s year-round centers, which hosts volunteers and continues construction throughout the rest of the year, offering a completely different pace and perspective compared to that of the summer program.

Posey said that while working for ASP in the summer, volunteers and staffers don’t necessarily get to experience the negative effects that families go through during the winter months.

“Going into my first fellowship year, last year, that was the biggest thing that stood out to me and stuck with me the most,” said Posey. “I didn’t expect to see the real struggle through winter. It was very difficult. You see a lot of reality behind the work that we do and the effect that it can have.”

The year-round program also allows volunteers the opportunity to see positive effects that come along with making a home warmer, safer and dryer.

“You don’t just see the numbers and the statistics that we give our volunteers about the projects,” said Posey. “You see those in action a lot more and why it’s important.”

Posey said ASP’s year-round program is also different because the demographic of volunteers includes mostly adults, whereas summer volunteer groups tend to bring more high-school aged individuals.

“The pace is different, as far as the energy levels, but also very different as far as seeing construction and relationships happen way faster with all adults,” said Posey.

Kristina Rowles, regional coordinator for ASP, has now worked full-time for this non-profit organization for nearly 3 ½ years, with an additional five summers on staff.

Rowles said the year-round staffers or “Fellows” are able to tackle more difficult and complex projects too, due to the skill level of volunteers generally being higher.

“Sometimes a roof is just too complex for our summer volunteers to tackle,” said Rowles. “If we know that we have a very skilled adult group coming in, we’re able to tackle that and then that provides a dry home for someone who otherwise would not get that opportunity.”

Rowles said similar to the summer program, projects are chosen based on budget, skill level of volunteers, distance from the center and timeframe. Each project and the program, as a whole, is predominantly funded through volunteer fees, independent donors and federal grants. ASP centers also occasionally facilitate special fundraisers for materials and projects that may be outside the initial budget, such as water heaters, septic systems and room additions.

Posey had a perfect example of what it’s like to originally turn down a family and watch them suffer for yet another year, due to safety concerns, budget regulations and skill level limitations. However, after lots of strategizing, Posey and her staff were able to accomplish one of their most impactful projects yet.

“It just wasn’t part of our scope at that point,” said Posey. “It took a lot of planning and a lot of preparation, and a lot of Adam Bean, our home repair coordinator, coming in to explain things, and a lot of prayer. But we’re able to see something cool, a really high impact project happen that is normally completely out of ASP’s scope.”

Not only does ASP touch the lives of individuals by simply offering free home repair, but the staff, volunteers and organization work to build strong relationships with the homeowners and help in any other way they can.

Posey said they met a family in need of home repairs that directly correlated with ASP’s scope and skill level, but these repairs were required in order for the family to stay together. Needing a new HVAC system and bathroom floor could have soon been the cause of these parents losing their children, if ASP hadn’t stepped in to help. Through different conversations with Social Services and having the right volunteers at the right time, ASP was able to fulfil their needs and help this family stay together.

“That was a whole new type of relationship building that we got to witness and were able to be very directly involved in,” said Posey. “Not only our volunteers getting to know them, but helping them continue getting to know each other, as a family, was just really cool. That was definitely high impact that was unexpected, but that’s God.”

After volunteering for eight years and working as a volunteer coordinator in Cocke County, Tennessee, I can attest that there’s something to be said about the relationships built through ASP.

In 2013, I attended my third ASP trip and served in Knox County, Kentucky. The family that my crew worked for couldn’t live in their home while ASP was doing repairs, due to limited space and safety concerns. The married couple chose to live in a camper, on the same lot, with their 7-year-old grandson, Ethan, who they seemed to take care of regularly.

On the day we met, I was wearing a Champion Show Feed t-shirt and Ethan said, “I’m going to call you Champ.” After that short conversation, I immediately knew our relationship was going to grow very quickly.

Within a couple days, the whole work crew had nicknames. Ethan loved turtles and “Call of the Wildman,” so naturally he became Turtle Man for the week.

Every day, Ethan wanted to help with the projects we were given. Due to his own ambition, he even learned how to hold a hammer, but as the week came to an end and projects came to a close, it was time to say goodbye to Ethan and Knox County.

On our last day of work, we gifted the family with some useful items and gave Ethan a set of Legos, which he would potentially cherish for years to come.

While we were hugging and saying our goodbyes, I asked Ethan if he was going to miss us.

Without hesitation, he looked up at me, arms still wrapped around my waist, and said, “I ain’t ever letting go.”

It was in that moment that I realized how much of an impact we truly had on Ethan, over the course of just one week. My relationship with that 7-year-old boy is something I will hold close to my heart forever, but it also serves as a symbol that we don’t meet individuals by accident. People are meant to cross our paths for a reason, especially those we meet through an organization as impactful as ASP.


This feature story was written by Bailey Pees, an agricultural communication student enrolled in the Agricultural Communication 2531 course during the 2019 Autumn Semester. Dr. Joy Rumble instructed the course.