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Blue-green algae fight continues

Staff writer

As of May 31, both Marion County Lake and Marion Reservoir are under advisory from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment for blue-green algae.

Officials at both lakes are working to prevent cyanobacteria blooms in the future.

Peggy Blackman has worked since 2003 as Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategy Coordinator to clear up blue-green algae at the reservoir.

WRAPS conducted surveys of water quality and the organization studied the areas of land erosion in neighboring agricultural properties where sediment drains into the reservoir. Blackman said the leading cause of blue-green algae is nutrients — phosphorous and nitrogen — being carried by sediment. Environmental factors — heat, lack of wind and rain — cause the nutrients to rise to the surface and cause the algae.

Using funds secured from Marion County and the Environmental Protection Agency, Blackman has worked with producers to obstruct sediment runoff by placing terraces and concrete blockers in the watershed around the reservoir — a 200 mile radius.

“We’ve had good support from the county and absolutely none from the cities,” she said.

WRAPS then set up a contract with Philip Barnes with the Kansas State Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering. Kansas State researchers tests for blue-green algae weekly between April and September at the reservoir and monthly from October to March.

These measures did not make a difference at the reservoir right away. Blackman said the worst year for blue green algae at the reservoir was 2006.

“The water was literally opaque,” she said.

Nutrients can rest at the bottom of the lake for years before rising to the surface. Right now, Blackman said the water at the bottom of the reservoir has been unchanged for two and a half years.

To increase water flow, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers park rangers drained some of the water from the reservoir in the spring. The drawback to this maneuver is the chance of creating a low water level in case of a dry spring.

The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks caught large numbers of carp and buffalo fish from the bottom of the lake in the recent past. While the move was meant to create an advantageous water system for fisherman, carp and buffalo fish can stir up nutrients that create blue-green algae.

Blackman said the reservoir has seen progress since 2006. There are still lands were sediment runoff needs to be addressed and the lake is still susceptible to algae, but she said it is much better off than it was.

Marion County Lake

Officials have had a more difficult time making preventative measures against blue-green algae at Marion County Lake.

Last year was the first time that blue-green algae was confirmed at the lake, Environmental Health Department Director Tonya Richards said.

Since June 24, the lake has been under an algae warning three times and under advisory eight times.

Richards has applied for a grant that the county would use to provide an alternative water source for two ranchers who use the northern cove, located on private property, and eastern section of the lake to allow cattle to cool off and drink.

The county has already taken steps to control sediment. They have placed 10-foot wide buffer strips of tall grass at edges of the lake this year.

However, Richards said it may take years to see effects preventive measures have had at Marion County Lake. Like at the reservoir, the lake has a store of sediment waiting in the lake that rises to the surface under the right conditions.

Unlike the reservoir, lake officials have no way of moving water in the lake.

Other lakes

Marion County Lake and Marion Reservoir are not alone in their struggle against blue-green algae.

Since June 24, 17 lakes received a warning level for blue-green algae according to the Kansas Wildlife and Parks Department website; 15 of those lakes received multiple warnings.

Memorial Veterans Lake in Great Bend received a warning level 19 times over this time. The Augusta Santa Fe Lake in Butler County was under a warning 11 times.

Twenty different lakes received an advisory level for blue-green algae. Logan City Lake in Phillips County was under advisory 12 times.

Last modified June 7, 2012

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