State of Ohio officials Thursday advised visitors to Grand Lake St. Marys to refrain from swimming, wading through visible scum or swallowing lake water because of an algal bloom. In a news release, officials from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) and Ohio Department of Health noted an algae bloom was discovered during testing this week at Grand Lake St. Marys State Park’s three beaches.
The samples indicated planktothrix was the dominate cyanobacteria in the water. The bloom is capable of producing algal toxins, including microcystin, which has plagued the lake the past two summers. The bloom is not confined to the beaches and can be seen throughout the lake.
“We have not tested for the other three toxins yet,” Ohio EPA spokeswoman Heidi Griesmer said. “I don’t know when that testing will begin.”
Officials will put advisory signs in place at West, East and Camp beaches cautioning against swimming or swallowing lake water. Griesmer said state officials are in the process of finalizing plans, including a testing schedule, for the lake this year. Currently, there are no plans to close the lake to boat traffic if contact advisories are posted this year.
The state also released microcystin testing for the lake. Levels of the toxin ranged in the single digits through May 4. However, on May 11, a sample taken from near the in-take registered a level of 21.8 parts per billion.
The World Health Organization has set a level of 20 ppb as posing a moderate risk to those who come into recreational contact with the water.
Grand Lake St. Marys Park Manager Brian Miller said while he is disappointed in the early bloom, it is something he eventually expected this year.
However, he said he believes park staff are better equipped to handle questions from visitors regarding the lake this year.
“I think we have a lot of answer this year that we didn’t have last year,” Miller said. “One of the main things is that it’s a contact advisory so people can still boat. The other thing we learned is about the fishing. We removed fish and had them tested and it proved there was no microcystin in the fish and people can still fish.”
Lake Improvement Association President Tim Lovett issued a written statement following the announcement, noting heavy rains this year and the subsequent increase in biomass as a result contributed to the bloom.
“It’s important to understand that while we have a multi-tiered action plan in place, to date very little has actually been done to clean the lake water,” Lovett said in the statement.
“The alum treatment scheduled for June 1 will be our first major attempt to neutralize the phosphorus in the lake, and we’re hopeful it will have a significant impact on eliminating the current algal bloom and reducing the likelihood for algal blooms this summer,” he said. “There is no short-term solution to restoring Grand Lake St. Marys to a healthy environment for recreation, wildlife, and business — but we know if we stay the course and follow the action plan outlined by solid scientific research, Grand Lake St. Marys will once again be Ohio’s greatest natural resource.”
Like Miller, Lovett said he is confident officials have the necessary tools and information at their disposal to begin to heal the lake.
“It might get worse before it gets better, but that’s no cause for panic — it’s science,” Lovett said. “When you know what to expect, and you know what causes the problem, you can figure out how to solve it.
“That’s what the action plan is for, and if it is followed we are confident we will, in time, solve Grand Lake St. Marys’ problems,” he said. “What we need now, more than anything, is continued support from the Grand Lake St. Marys community and our legislators so we can continue to move toward a future of fun and prosperity for all of the lake’s citizens and shareholders.”
By Mike Burkholder, Wapakoneta Daily News