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Algae curse poised to be broken

Staff writer

Hope is on the horizon for Marion County’s algae-plagued lakes.

Scientists are still evaluating the effectiveness of a hydrogen peroxide-based algaecide as a solution to harmful blue-green algae blooms.

But if an experiment conducted this past week at Milford Reservoir proves successful, treatment may be introduced at other lakes including in Marion.

“Marion Reservoir is a possible candidate for future peroxide treatment,” said Kristi Zears, communication director with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

However, neither of Marion County’s lake managers has received a timeline for future tests, nor have they been told which lakes might be chosen.

“It’s not a 100 percent solution yet. They are working on it,” Marion County Lake superintendent Isaac Hett said.

KDHE treated areas of Milford as part of an effort to find ways to tackle rapid growth of blue-green algae, a cyanobacteria that can produce toxins harmful to people and animals.

Peroxide-based algaecides have killed algae without harming plants or fish, said William Blair, KDHE’s harmful algal bloom response coordinator.

“The treatment causes cells to die and hopefully not burst in the process,” he said. “You don’t want to pop a water balloon so it runs all over. You kill the cell without popping the cell.”

Algae release toxins when their cell walls collapse or are crushed.

Once dispersed, the treatment becomes nontoxic, but researchers at Milford kept boaters away just to be safe, he said.

“All applicators had masks to protect them from exposure,” Blair said.

A KDHE report on algae treatment at Milford is expected in six to eight weeks.

Meanwhile, KDHE is monitoring Marion Reservoir to determine whether an application there might be advisable, Zears said.

“For treatment to be effective, it must be well-timed and well placed,” she said.

McCoy said research at the reservoir “is already under way.”

KDHE scientists and an academic consortium from Wichita State University and the University of Kansas are monitoring data provided by two buoys deployed in the lake’s waters.

The buoys are in front of the dam and at the northwest end of the reservoir, McCoy said. They measure everything from water temperature to nutrient levels.

Blue-green algae is a cytobacteria that thrives on key nutrients such as phosphorus, often a result of farm and livestock runoff.

Phosphorus binds to sediments but can be released back into the water under some conditions, said Zears.

“Therefore many reservoirs receive nutrients not only from the obvious, external sources in the watershed (fertilizer runoff, and manure) but from less obvious internal sources,” she said.

Because algae blooms are fueled by nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen, it is important to understand where they are coming from during peak bloom conditions, she said.

McCoy said researchers were looking for data that would show when an overgrowth of algae was likely.

“Once enough research has been done, we will able to tell when a bloom is coming on and we can abate it,” he said. “All the data that we capture helps with future treatment. Without the data it is very hard to have an answer.”

Spot treatments to quickly stem algae make sense in large lakes because the expense of treating the entire lake is prohibitive, Zears said.

Both the reservoir and the county lake were downgraded from blue-green algae warnings to a watch this past Thursday thanks to rain and cooler temperatures.

McCoy said the reservoir had a “relatively busy weekend” at all of its campgrounds.

“It’s the cooler temperatures, I think,” he said. “Even though people think it’s fun at the lake when its super hot, it’s still super hot. Cooler temperatures bring out people who don’t like coming out when its 100-plus degrees.”

Hett was able to open swimming at the county lake for a nearly booked campground, this past weekend thanks to the downgrade.

About 70 to 75 people turned out this weekend to listen to bluegrass during Camp and Jam, an informal event for amateur musicians.

“That’s not even close to the numbers that were out here last year,” he said of a COVID-canceled bluegrass concert. “But for what it was, we were very pleased with the turnout.”

He is glad the lake is still under watch until KDHE tells him otherwise.

“It looks good at the lake,” he said. “I hope we stay there the rest of this week.”

Last modified Aug. 6, 2020

 

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