In June of 2006, I received a fellowship to sail from the Lake Erie’s western basin to as far as the eastern basin in Erie, Pennsylvania aboard the U.S. EPA’s research vessel Lake Guardian. The Centers for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence gave 16 educators a bunk and three square meals for a week in exchange for us learning all we could from microscopic explorations of lake-bottom muck, chemical analysis of Detroit River water and deformed fish.

It was one of the best weeks of my life. Unlike most of my shipmates, I didn’t experience sea-sickness and found my sea legs the moment I came aboard. Rather, it took about a week to rediscover my land-legs.

Aside from us amateurs, down-and-dirty research passed us in the vessel’s cramped corridors every day. In addition to biology and geoscience professors from Ohio State, Gannon and Syracuse Universities, there was a chemist from Niagra University investigating a mysterious, toxic thing called cyanobacteria. This colorful, teeny thing, he said, had the potential to devastate Ohio’s water, a resource that people in other parts of the world — and in this country, for that matter — go to war over.

If we felt like it, we could volunteer to get up in the middle of the night to help collect water samples for Dr. Boyer. When he did find a sample that contained the fairly nondescript blue-green algae, I took a blurry photo of it through the microscope and filed it away where it took a back seat to gorgeous sunset images and my first forays by kayak at Presque Isle.

That was less than a decade ago. Now, most of us in Northwest Ohio have heard of blue-green algae. Its presence has sickened humans and killed companion animals and tourism in Grand Lake St. Marys, as well as most, if not all, of Ohio’s inland stillwaters. Five days ago I received a Facebook message from a friend saying people from Toledo were in Bluffton buying water. That night, the drinking/bathing ban for Toledo was trending on social media — as big a headline as you can get now.

In 2006, those scientists aboard the Lake Guardian were considering all the sources that could contribute to an increase in the presence of cyanobacteria in the Great Lakes. They were isolating everything from failing combined sewer outflows to zebra mussel urine. Eight years later, they’re pretty darn sure what the big contributor is. The good news is that this industry is introducing measures to combat the problem. The bad news is that, according to a few off-the-record sources, it’s too late for inland lakes.

One in-law who makes his home in Toledo isn’t concerned. “Once the wind shifts, the big bloom will move out of the eastern basin” was his response. If he wasn’t beyond arm’s reach, his still full head of hair would be patchy, at best.

Maybe cyanobacteria is flammable. That seemed to work well on the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland a few decades ago. You decide.

But make it quick.