Hillsboro officials ask feds to help with algae

Concerned about the recurring algae bloom at Marion Reservoir, Hillsboro officials will be asking federal lawmakers this week to provide funding for the chemical treatment of the lake in order to protect tourism in Marion County.

Packets detailing the current situation are being delivered to Kansas’ senators and representatives this week, as well as several other selected lawmakers.

In a letter dated May 26 and addressed to those lawmakers, Hillsboro City Administrator Steven Garrett said Marion Reservoir draws about 400,000 people to Marion County each year who annually spend $5 million within the county.

“This situation presents serious problems for our local economy,” Garrett wrote.

Large blooms of blue-green algae first appeared in the reservoir last summer. The blue-green algae has been found to produce toxins that are harmful to humans.

The cities of Hillsboro and Marion, which use Marion Reservoir as the source for drinking water for their residents and for the city of Peabody, altered methods of water treatment last summer to eliminate the possibility of toxins in their finished water.

However, the effect of the algae bloom on tourism is still a concern to city officials.

“With the media focused on the blue-green algae and the toxins they produce, the number of those who would choose Marion Reservoir for their weekend fishing trips and boating trips dwindled,” Garrett wrote in the letter.

“Visual observations indicate that this season’s first algae bloom is more significant in size than any that we’ve seen previously,” he wrote.

“Already, we’re seeing visitors of the reservoir cancel their camping reservations and head elsewhere for their weekend getaway.”

The letter asks the federal government to allow for chemical treatment of algae blooms. Currently, treatment is not allowed by federal or state agencies.

The letter states that new copper products that are nontoxic to humans and fish are being used elsewhere in the United States by the U.S. Army Corps of engineers and other municipalities.

“If these blooms were to be treated when they are first discovered, they would not spread to encompass such huge portions of the lake,” said Hillsboro Mayor Delores Dalke.

Currently, Kansas has no recognized guidelines about toxicity levels for blue-green algae cells as it pertains to recreational use. The World Health Organization lists as a “moderate” risk to health a level of 100,000 cells.

“There were areas of the reservoir last year that reached a cell count of 3 million cells or more, and, unfortunately, those areas were mostly in coves and swimming beaches where the possibility of whole-body contact and risk of ingestion was the greatest,” Garrett wrote.

The letter requests federal assistance for the detection and elimination of the blue-green algae in Kansas reservoirs while local agencies and organizations continue to address the long-term problem of nutrient run-off related to farm practices.

Algae blooms are caused by conditions that include temperature, weather, clarity of water, and nutrients. Federal and state programs exist that help reduce the amounts of nutrients in the reservoir.

“We have very little control over the elements that contribute to algae blooms, except for nutrients,” Garrett said. “These programs that address nutrients are important to continue.”

Recreational cell-count guidelines have been used in other parts of the United States to address human recreational contact in bodies of water afflicted with algae blooms. Local officials would like to see similar guidelines for Marion Reservoir.

However, the letter also recommends that the cell-count guidelines be applied to all reservoirs in the United States. If the guidelines are applied only to Kansas reservoirs, officials fear it would create economic hardship for the state.

Garrett said the distribution of the information packets is an attempt to see the algae situation change at Marion Reservoir. Last summer, officials were frustrated by the inability of various agencies and organizations to take action.

“Somebody who has authority should step up to the plate,” he said.

“Our concern is for the continued safe use of our reservoir,” Dalke said.

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