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Environment


Ohio continues to battle toxic algae blooms
ODNR says farmers are partnering and there are signs of progress, but warnings will continue at some state lakes
by WKSU's M.L. SCHULTZE


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M.L. Schultze
 
Grand Lake St. Marys has been had the most obvious and persistent problems.
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Ohio is still tackling the growing problem of toxic algae blooms in lakes and reservoirs with a combination of testing, education and technology. Still, the “do-not-swim” warnings went up this past weekend at the most persistently troublesome of the lakes.  WKSU’s M.L. Schultze spoke with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources about the ongoing battle.

LISTEN: A Q and A on Ohio's toxic algae problem

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The outbreaks of the blue-green algae are spawned by too much phosphorus and contain a liver toxin that makes them dangerous.

Back in 2010, about two dozen Ohio lakes and reservoirs posted the warnings, including one in the state’s newest park, Wingfoot Lake in southern Portage County, and for its great lake, Lake Erie.

But the most persistent image of the problem is at Grand Lake St. Marys, where matted shreds of the blooms have tinted the entire lake almost a lime green, and where it’s coated much of the surface. The state has been concentrating much of its efforts there. But Matt Eiselstein of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources says tests in April show there’s much to be done.

Way beyond conservative state standards
“The tests did some back higher than our threshold so we did go ahead and post those signs.” He says the state errs on the side of caution.

“For us, the thresholds are set very conservatively at 6 parts per billion of microcystin. So anything over 6, were’ going to treat it the same, whether its 7 or 50 ppb,” Eiselstein said. Still, he noted that readings at some of the lake’s four beaches were above 100.

Partnering with farmers
Grand Lake St. Marys is surrounded by large swaths of farms, and ODNR has been working with them to control runoff from fields. Eiselstein says the “farming community has been great.”

“We do have nutrient management plans … helping farmers with soil testing, which is key. That way farmers know how much phosphorous to apply to their fields and when they can do that.

“We also have some drainage tiles that are going in that actually help keep the water from draining off the fields at certain times.”

Both have been applied to the Lake Erie watershed, as well as St. Marys.

See it, report it
And Eiselstein notes that “at any lakes or state parks -- Ohio state properties -- we always have white signs up that explain what an algal bloom looks like,” so the public can help trained state employees spot potential problems for testing.

And he says the state is working on prevention and treatment options beyond Lake Erie and Grand Lake St. Marys.

“Around the state we have treatment trains, which are essentially manmade wetlands that actually help filter phosphorus and toxins out of the water before it actually reaches the lake.”

And he says methods applied at St. Marys may help elsewhere. That includes “airygators” which “essentially keep oxygen pumping through the water.”

He says in some places using the airygators, the level of toxins is 80 percent less than at the four beaches.

 

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