State issues toxic algae warnings for Buckeye Lake

Warning signs are going up at Buckeye Lake, where toxic algae are plaguing the park for the fourth straight summer. This year’s bloom is two months earlier than last year’s. On Monday, readings for microcystin, a liver toxin produced by the algae, were 94 parts per billion at Brooks Park beach. At Crystal… and Fairfield beaches, the readings were 77 parts per billion and 57 parts per billion, respectively.

The state’s safety threshold is 6 parts per billion.

Swimming and wading are not recommended at those beaches for seniors, young children and those with compromised immune systems.

Toxic algae are common in most Ohio lakes but grow thick in warm, still water, where they feed on phosphorus from manure, sewage and fertilizers that rains wash into streams. They can produce liver and nerve toxins that can sicken people and kill pets.

Toxic-algae outbreaks are a problem nationwide. Blooms are standard in 38 states that responded to a survey this year by Resource Media and the National Wildlife Federation. The majority of reporting states called the issue “serious.”

Since 2011, when toxic blooms also were reported in June, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has spent more than $700,000 on efforts to reduce algae at Buckeye Lake.

“Because of its history … we already had our informational signs at all the beaches,” said Mark Bruce, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. “Now, there are also public-health advisory signs.”

Buckeye Lake is the second inland lake where algae warnings have been posted this year. The other is Grand Lake St. Marys in western Ohio, where warnings went up before Memorial Day weekend.

“What dictates these blooms is phosphorus runoff and water temperature. That’s why you’ll see them in places like Grand Lake St. Marys and Buckeye Lake earlier,” said Chris Winslow, assistant director of the Ohio Sea Grant College Program.

“These lakes are smaller, so they warm up quicker.”

Efforts to reduce or eliminate Buckeye Lake’s algae have included public efforts to persuade farmers, businesses and homeowners to cut fertilizer use and to contain and slow storm-water runoff.

The Ohio EPA also uses monitors to keep tabs on the lake’s water quality. Some of the $700,000 in funding was used in an effort to map all the farm-drainage outlets, called tiles, into streams that drain into Buckeye Lake.

State officials began testing sites near beaches there this week after an Ohio EPA employee reported a suspicious-looking bloom, Bruce said. Natural Resources typically does not test for toxins unless it receives such a report.

Winslow said the warm, wet spring is to blame.

“They’re coming earlier,” he said. “If you have the phosphorus with this warmth and this rainfall, you’re going to have blooms at this time of year.”

If heavy rain continues, the algae will get worse. Winslow predicts a bad year for Lake Erie, too.

“We don’t make official predictions until early July … but if we don’t get another drop of rain from now until July, we’re going to have higher than average bloom this year,” he said.

Photo caption: Children played in the water at Buckeye Lake last summer, not far from a sign warning of algae blooms.

Jessica White, The Columbus Dispatch

View original article at: State issues toxic algae warnings for Buckeye Lake

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