Blue-green algae becomes one more frustration in 2020

Many were frustrated when the Hillsboro City Council voted against opening up their family aquatic center for the summer due to concerns with COVID-19 so they took to cooling off at the Marion County Lake or at the Marion County Reservoir.

However, that came to an end when the blue-green algae watch moved to a blue-green algae warning and the swim beaches were closed.

The Free Press decided to find out what exactly causes the blue-green algae. It turns out that there are many theories for it. Maybe as many theories there are reasons.

“The blue algae? It’s the geese. They sit on the water and poop. All their poop floats down and then it causes that algae,” said Don Vinduska, the owner of D & J Liquor in Marion. “Those geese were endangered when I was growing up and now there are so many of them.”

Park and Lake Superintendent Isaac Hett said that while the geese do contribute to the problem, they are not the entire cause of it, at least for the Marion County Lake.

“Everyone has a theory, but every lake is different. And our problems here may be very different than the issues they are having out at Chase County Lake or at the Reservoir,” said Hett.”They are all unique with how water enters the lake and how water leaves the lake and what surrounds the lake. Like here we have mostly grassland around us. The reservoir is mostly surrounded by agricultural lands.”

This is why not every lake in Kansas struggles with the blue-green algae issues.

“Each lake is different. For here, it’s really fertilizers, even commercial ones. The two main things that cause the blue-green algae are phosphorous and nitrogen. What happens are the nutrients get brought into the lake from all different types of sources. The goose poop is known to be high in both of those and that is where that comes from. Even just water run-off. Nutrients get mixed in with water. 90 percent of our rain runoff comes in on this northeast end here at this low water bridge. When we have a major flood event, all of that water pours into the lake and it moves across and it settles,” said Hett.

Hett explained that the lake is 80 years old and it has reached its capacity of what it can hold so as the temperatures rise, it heats up the “muck” and the algae blooms. The more still and hot the water is, the more toxic it is.

“Fishing is fine and eating the fish is fine. Ingesting the water is where the problem is so that is why it isn’t good with small kids and even dogs to let them swim,” said Hett. “But boating and the wind helps move it all around. Boating and tubing help move the water around.”

Hett said that he knows it is so frustrating for families because they were really taking advantage of the swimming area and enjoying it. He noticed the swimming area was busier than he had ever seen it in the few weeks it had been open from the COVID-19 closure until the warning when they had to close it again.

“We have had K-State come out so they can help us to try to figure out what causes it and what solves it. The only solution would be to dredge it which would probably cost close to $1.2 million dollars,” said Hett. “They are also working on a chemical solution that they could do every summer that would keep it clear for the summer. I think they are getting close.”

Hett said it is important to know this isn’t just a Kansas problem, but it is happening in other states which means more people being impacted by it.

“That just means more people working on a solution,” said Hett.

Hett reminds people that it is fine to interact with the water. Just wash your hands and anywhere else that comes into contact with it.

The water has had less blooms in the last two weeks so Hett is hoping it will soon move back to a watch instead of a warning which would mean the swimming area would open back up.

There is one step above a warning which is a closure. The closure would prohibit boating and fishing as well as swimming. Hett stated that he has never seen a closure in the over three years that he has been there.

The best way to find out if the swimming area is open or not is the county website or the Marion County Park and Lake Facebook page.

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