Written by Don Ratzlaff Tuesday, 15 May 2012 14:28
State officials from several agencies said at a media briefing last week in Topeka that it’s hard to predict what kind of blue-green algae season lies ahead for public lakes in Kansas this summer, including the two lakes in Marion County.
The officials characterized last year’s outbreaks of toxic blooms as likely worse than they’ve ever been.
Between March 18 and Oct. 31, KDHE received 42 requests for testing at different lakes, according to Tom Langer, director of KDHE’s Bureau of Environmental Health.
He said the agency tested 38 bodies of water affecting 39 counties. Six lakes were under a warning or advisory for 27 days or more in 2011. Logan State Fishing Lake topped the list at 111 days; Marion and Milford lakes were next at 91 days.
Memorial Park Lake in Great Bend is the only lake currently under a warning.
Last year’s blooms affected lake visits, said Steve Adams of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. About 6 million visits were made to state parks last year, down nearly 1 million from the year before.
“Some of that could be because of the excessive heat last summer, too,” Adams said. “It’s hard to say.”
Officials said they will continue to monitor public lakes in the state and will issue advisories and warnings when problems are discovered.
As for 2012, “I don’t think any of us really know because the factors that work into whether or not we have blooms tend to be the weather and what’s going on in the watershed,” said Mike Tate, director of the Bureau of Water at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
Tate said weather-related conditions that contribute to large-scale hazardous algae blooms include:
• Spring storms causing significant runoff into lakes;
• Long periods of hot, dry summer weather with little wind;
• Minimal water releases from the lake;
• Accumulation of pollutants in the water, primarily excess nitrogen and phosphorus commonly found in farm and lawn fertilizers.
Blue-green algae are actually various types of cyanobacteria. Algae is natural to Kansas lakes, but under certain conditions, algae blooms can form and become health hazards.
Skin contact can cause allergic reactions and ingesting the infected water can cause diarrhea, vomiting and worse. Pets and livestock can die from drinking too much infected water.
Last year, blue-green algae outbreaks in public lakes killed at least five dogs and sickened at least 13 people. KDHE issued warnings at 16 lakes—three lasting most of the summer—and advisories at four more.
2011 was the second year KDHE issued advisories and warnings for harmful algae blooms.
Advisories mean that activities such as boating and fishing may be safe, but direct water contact should be avoided by humans and entirely by pets or livestock.
Warnings mean that all water activity should be avoided, except boating where water is unlikely to splash on passengers.
Langer said the nature of these algae blooms varies from lake to lake.
“Each one is its own unique event, and because of that we know that we cannot say on Day 1 this will happen, and on Day 10 this will occur and on Day 15 we’ll see something else,” he said.
“These things have virtually a life of their own, and that’s what requires some of the constant monitoring that is performed by the agencies that respond to (hazardous algae blooms).”