Guest column: Is our lake safe?
With all of the headlines revealing the dangers that exist in Grand Lake St Marys, are the Ohio Department of Natural Resources [ODNR] and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency [OEPA] sounding the alarm unnecessarily at other Ohio lakes?
This past week, someone saw what appeared to be an Algal Bloom somewhere on Buckeye Lake and followed up with the assumption that the toxins in the water, in and around Brooks Park may be dangerously high. Without the benefit of any water quality tests, the decision was made to post a Public Health Advisory. Once the results were determined to be safe for recreational use, the decision was made to leave the signs in place for two more weeks to assure that the conditions would remain safe.
The Microsystin Toxins that are being referenced in these studies are released from Blue-Green Algal Blooms. These Blooms occur as a result of an overly rich nutrient environment caused by several factors. The primary cause of the problematic algae in Buckeye Lake is a result of 150 years of private septic systems around the shallow lake, which have contributed to the nutrient levels in the sediment found in the bottom of the lake. When Perry County completed the connection of the last 295 homes along Honey Creek Road to the Thornville Waste Water Treatment Plant, significant progress was made in the improvement of the future water quality in Buckeye Lake.
Other factors also contribute to the Hypereutrophic [high nutrient content] condition of the Lake.
Run-off from the thousands of acres of crop land that make up the Buckeye Lake Watershed, certainly contribute to the conditions, however, before we start throwing stones at our farming neighbors, keep in mind that they are using some of the best farming practices that are available today. Most fields have been properly tiled and drained, preventing excess run-off of top soil. No-Till and Low-Till cultivation practices are being used throughout the watershed by many farmers. The judicious use of various fertilizers are being used, but only as absolutely needed to assure maximum crop yields.
The fertilizer that we apply to our lawns also plays a role in the excess amounts of phosphorous in the lake. This excess can be reduced or eliminated by applying only fertilizers that contain NO PHOSPHOROUS. Simply check the label on the bag. The number in the middle should read -0-. If you are using a lawn service, advise the provider that you want them to only apply chemicals that do not contain phosphorous. Many are already complying with this request. All you have to do is ask!
Don’t Feed the Geese. An adult Canada Goose can produce the equivalent of dumping a 50 pound bag of fertilizer in the lake. Attempting to be a care taker of this bird only adds to the problem of excess nutrients in the lake. Don’t Feed the Geese!
Carp is another contributor to the excess phosphorous in Buckeye Lake. These large fish forage on the bottom and destroy the plant life that has the ability to absorb some of the phosphorous. In addition, Carp also stir up the sediment and prevent sunlight from aiding in the natural decomposition of the excess nutrients. Carp also contribute to the surplus phosphorous through their body excretions that are super rich in nutrients.
Buckeye Lake for Tomorrow is working with ODNR and OEPA to monitor the overall quality of the water and sediment in Buckeye Lake through chemical analysis being done at Heidelberg University and TCCI of New Lexington. The Qualified Data Collectors [QDC] are certified by the OEPA to collect samples from the Lake and assist in determining the clarity and color changes throughout the year. These measurements provide essential information to enable us to better understand the changing condition of the water quality and to better determine the best approach for improving the overall water quality throughout the watershed.
Back to the original question, Is our lake safe?
Using measurements of Microsystin Toxins as a guide, the World Health Organization has established that a level of 1 Part Per Billion [ppb] is considered to be safe for drinking water and a level of 20 ppb is recognized as safe for recreational purposes. In 2010, we had one reading, at one location, during one test that indicated a level of 20 ppb, while all other readings on that test day were found to be 2 ppb or lower. Last August, independent tests done by Buckeye Lake for Tomorrow developed a high reading of 1.6 ppb, with most readings at or near the 1 ppb level. The reading this past week at Brooks Park was 3.56 ppb. Had the test results been known prior to the posting of the signs, the signs would have not likely been posted at all.
If one used clarity as a measurement, the results would be more disappointing. In the 1920’s the clarity of the lake was reported to be around 48”. Today the clarity depth ranges between 7” and 12”, depending on the time of year that the sample is taken.
We are making progress in improving the overall water quality in the watershed, including the lake itself. These shallow man-made lakes in Ohio present an environmental challenge and Mother Nature is a major factor. The heavy rainfalls this spring have produced more runoff than usual thus contributing to the potential for algal bloom, however, unlike the situation at Grand Lake St Marys, the limited number of livestock in the Buckeye Lake Watershed reduces the risk and the action plans that are being developed make containment doable.
We encourage everyone who lives on and around the lake to be responsible stewards of this natural resource and take the steps necessary to protect this fragile environment. Every thing that is done to improve the water quality will go a long way toward reducing the possibility of Buckeye Lake turning into the crisis that the residents around Grand Lake St Marys are facing today.