Blue-Green Algae Main Topic Of County Council Meeting

Environmentalists are tracking trends with the potentially harmful blue-green algae in many of the lakes in Kosciusko County.

Blue-green algae has been documented in some county lakes for decades, but there is concern over whether it is becoming more prevalent than in the past, said Dr. Nate Bosch, Director of the Center For Lakes and Streams at Grace College.

Bosch gave a presentation to Kosciusko County Council Thursday and told officials the algae has been found in most area lakes, including the 12 biggest lakes.

The Center for Lakes and Streams is currently studying 58 lake sites in Kosciusko County.

Indiana Department of Environmental Management is sampling various lakes across the state for the algae, but a listing of lakes on the department’s web page does not include any from Kosciusko County.

While blue-green algae is naturally occurring and common in many lakes. Bosch said there is concern when the algae populations spike or toxin production increases to the point it becomes a human health threat.

“We do not currently have any data related to blue-green algae to suggest that people need to avoid any of our lakes in Kosciusko County,” Bosch said.

Conditions are much worse elsewhere.

Nationally, the algae has caused serious issues in part of Florida earlier this year, contaminated Toledo’s drinking water in 2014 and has plagued Grand Lakes St. Mary in Ohio for several years.

Bosch said Ohio officials noticed problems on the lake in 2009, and within a year the lake turned green with frothy bubbles. As a result, property values around the lake sunk significantly, he said.

Along with health concerns, Bosch said the financial impact an environmental crisis could bring is also a concern.

The Center for Lakes and Streams estimates lakefront property values in Kosciusko County is valued at $3 billion.

“This is what we’re proactively working against and this is what we’re avoiding through our work,” Bosch said.

The algae thrives in warm, stagnant waters, and this year’s warm weather has increased local lake water temperatures by 5 to 8 degrees compared to last year, Bosch said.

He pointed out that not all types of algae are bad for the environment.

“Blue-green algae is currently out competing the other types of algae in our lakes. That’s precisely what we’re studying right now to figure out why that’s happening,” Bosch said.

There is currently no treatment for blue-green algae, but Bosch said the most simple approach to preventing its growth is by lessening the amount of nutrients that algae feed on from entering the waterways.

In severe cases, it is recommended that people, as well as pets, stay out of the water where blue-green algae is prevalent.

According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, people exposed to the algae can suffer breathing difficulties, stomach issues including vomiting and diarrhea, skin irritation and numbness in hands or feet.

Pets, especially dogs, can experience symptoms such as fatigue, difficulty breathing, vomiting, convulsions and even death, according to the disease center.

Blue-green algae blooms can be blue-green in color, but the appearances can vary.

Concern about the algae shouldn’t prompt any hysteria, Bosch said, but added, “It’s got our attention. It’s important.”

Council members took no action following the presentation, but thanked Bosch for his work.