• Last modified 1801 days ago (July 19, 2019)


Blue-green algae, flooding poison tourism

UPDATE AFTER PRINT DEADLINE: A blue-green algae warning for Marion County Lake and a watch for Marion Reservoir both were renewed Thursday.

Staff writer

Marion Reservoir’s submerged campgrounds and are likely to remain closed until Labor Day week.

That might have been good new for Marion County Lake, which has enjoyed a summer boom in camping reservations, until blue-green algae kept visitors away.

As rising water levels sink tourism, managers of both of the county’s bodies of water would love to see an end to their woes, but Mother Nature isn’t cooperating.

Record flooding has deposited nutrient-rich runoff providing fuel for growth of blue-green algae as weather warms.

For 10 weeks, Marion Reservoir and Marion County Lake have been under either a watch or a warning for algae. The waterborne toxin complicates efforts to fix damage at the reservoir.

“It’s going to be a very slow process getting cleaned up,” said Kevin McCoy assistant reservoir manager with the Army Corps of Engineers.

News that campgrounds at the lake could open for reservations after Aug. 26 might be a misunderstanding of message left on an answering machine, McCoy said.

The reservation system at the reservoir is closed. Aug. 26 is not a reopening date for campgrounds, just an estimated earliest possible date.

“The biggest thing to keep in mind is we are not going to open until it is safe to do so,” he said.

Meanwhile, Marion County Lake has seen full campsites - a boon created by tourists who had their reservations canceled elsewhere.

“We had an awesome month of June,” lake manager Isaac Hett said. “From the bluegrass festival on, we have been completely full every single weekend.”

But, Marion County Lake is now under a blue-green algae warning - while the reservoir is under a watch.

The Fourth of July weekend was busy at the lake with only one or two campsites open. The warning may have led some campers to leave, Hett said.

“This past weekend we had an extreme dropoff,” Hett said. “We went from 40 or 50 campers to maybe having 10.”

Record flooding has left campgrounds and all but one boat dock at Marion Reservoir under water.

The reservoir swelled to 9 feet above flood level early in July, forcing the release of water from all three gates at the dam. The reservoir now stands at 4 feet above flood stage.

As floodwaters have receded, significant damage now shows.

“Some places came out relatively well, but there are other places where entire roads have been broken up and shattered by wave action,” McCoy said. “Even concrete picnic seats and tabletops are broken.”

Kansas State Research and Extension is warning the extreme heat the state is experiencing, coupled with heavy runoff from record rains, puts bodies of water at increased risk from algae blooms as water temperatures rise.

Marion County is due for a week of hot, dry weather with temperatures in the 90s and 100s, according to the National Weather Service.

Breezy weather, also in the forecast, can help rather than hurt, as can boat traffic, Hett said.

“We just have our fingers crossed and are hoping for the best,” he said.

Last modified July 19, 2019