Guest Column: A Buckeye Lake for Tomorrow water quality update
What do all of the numbers mean? How serious are the warnings posted at the beaches? Is Buckeye Lake in trouble? Is it safe to swim? Can we eat the fish?
It is a world-wide problem and is known by many names; Harmful Algal Blooms, HABs, Blue Green Algae and Cyanobacteria, but they all mean the same thing – Nutrient rich sediments in many of our lakes are providing an environment for these bacteria to flourish and they are capable of producing potentially harmful toxins.
The toxins, known as Microcystin Toxins can make humans ill and can cause death in small animals. Toxin levels of one part per billion [PPB] or less are considered safe for unlimited drinking as established by the World Health Organization [WHO]. Toxin levels of 20 PPB or less are found to be safe for recreating by the WHO. The State of Ohio has established an additional toxin level of 6 PPB or less, which is considered safe for children, elderly and those with compromised immune systems.
Approximately 24 percent of the tests taken in Buckeye Lake fall in the 1 PPB or less category. Another 66 percent are in the 1-6 PPB category, leaving about 10 percent that will exceed the 6 PPB limit, as set by the State of Ohio. When these levels exceed 6 PPB, warning signs are posted and remain in place until the test results fall below 6 PPB for two consecutive weeks. There have been a total of three tests over 20 PPB in the past three years [ 21 - 21 & 24 PPB ]. These higher results usually occur later in the season.
Over five years ago, prior to hearing about these bacteria and toxins, Buckeye Lake for Tomorrow [BLT] was studying the lake and watershed to improve the overall water quality in general. Three years ago, our focus turned more toward the algal blooms and ways to reduce the nutrients in the lake and the tributaries that make up the balance of the watershed.
Volunteers, for the past three years, have been checking 17 sites in the lake and tributaries every two weeks to monitor changes in the clarity and color of the water as well as their general overall observations of the condition of the lake. In addition, 12 sites have been selected upstream to measure and monitor the level of nutrients that may be entering the lake following rain storms.
The Millersport and Thornville waste water treatment plants are meeting or exceeding all Ohio EPA requirements for discharge and are sharing their results with BLT for inclusion in the balance of our studies. Residents are being urged to not use any phosphorous products in their landscaping, pick-up after their pets, keep yard waste out of the lake, catch and keep carp and to not feed the geese!
All to the point, an incredible amount of work is being done to improve the water quality. It has taken 160 years to get to where it is today and it will take more than a couple of weeks to turn it around.
In the meantime, it is safe to eat the fish as they do not seem to absorb the toxins in their bodies. If your grandkids are visiting and are accustomed to swimming in a chlorine treated pool, we would urge caution and have them shower when finishing their swimming activities, just as they should when recreating in any untreated water.
For more information, visit our web-site at: www.BuckeyeLakeforTomorrow.org