Algae blooms could cause problems for holiday swimmers

Water advisories posted at some state beaches

Ohioans could find high levels of bacteria in the water at least eight state beaches over the holiday weekend as high water and algae blooms continue to invade waterways.

The state has spent billions of dollars on solutions to fix the water quality problem and put in place rules to decrease what some scientists say is the No. 1 culprit of the algae blooms — runoff from farm fields and land near waterways.

This Fourth of July, algae blooms are still appearing in Ohio waterways and beaches at state lakes still have signs warning people of the high bacteria levels. It’s a problem that Gov. Mike DeWine has said he wants to address by spending nearly $1 billion over the next 10 years.

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“We cannot continue to lurch from water crisis to water crisis,” DeWine said earlier this year in a written release.

The algae issue led the Ohio House on June 20 to pass a bill aimed at accomplishing Gov. Mike DeWine’s H2Ohio Fund goals. House Bill 7, as passed by the house last month, establishes a trust fund for DeWine’s H2Ohio proposal and would create an advisory council to disburse money from the fund for water quality programs.

Algae blooms have garnered attention in the Buckeye State because they can kill fish and sometimes leave water toxic to humans. In 2014, hundreds of thousands of people in the Toledo area were ordered to temporarily stop drinking water after toxins from algae were detected.

Ohio’s farmers have taken most of the heat for algae because studies have shown runoff from the fertilizers and nutrients that help farmers grow their crops, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, have caused algae to blossom in Ohio’s waters.

The Ohio Farm Bureau has argued for voluntary measures to decrease nutrient runoff and in turn algae blooms. A 2016 study that showed voluntary efforts led to a decrease in the phosphorus applied near western Lake Erie, an area declared “impaired” by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency last year, Tony Seegers, director of state policy for the bureau said in testimony before the Ohio House in May.

But, the Farm Bureau supports DeWine’s new efforts to further address water quality issues, Seegers said.

“We believe this is a much needed program that will help on the ground actions to reduce nutrient loading,” Seegers said in testimony to the Ohio House. “It is refreshing that Governor DeWine wants to work with the agricultural community to address water quality issues.”

‘Be Diligent’

Algae blooms have become a major problem in all 50 states and their local impact has been felt throughout southwest Ohio.

Algae blooms commonly form in warmer, more shallow waters, such as the western area of Lake Erie, Grand Lake St. Marys and Buckeye Lake.

Great Lake St. Marys and Buckey Lake hav been under an Elevated Recreational Public Health Advisory since February, according to the Ohio Department of Health. In 2017, Kiser Lake near New Carlisle was overtaken by an algae bloom.

“I think you just need to be diligent, do your research and do your homework before you go out to that natural body of water,” said Richard Schairbaum, Greene County public health program manager. “Go to a place that you know is at least being looked at by some agency.”

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The toxins from some blooms can cause vomiting, fevers and a number of other symptoms in people who come in contact with them, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency. The Ohio Department of Health partners with local health organizations across the state to collect and test samples of monitored waterways for algae toxins and other contaminants weekly.

If a water sample is found to have toxins beyond the normal recreational standard, an advisory is posted nearby. It is also posted on “BeachGuard,” the Ohio Department of Health’s online warning system, said Eric Heis, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

“Always check out Ohio BeachGuard before you go to a state public beach, we put all the information there, when they’ve been tested, what the levels are,” Heis said. “Always be aware, be aware of what you’re entering … and be aware of what your kids are doing at the beach. Being aware is our biggest thing.”

As of Monday, the state had issued 26 alerts for Ohio beaches, according to the website BeachGuard.

The most severe alerts were issued to Grand Lake St. Marys and Buckeye Lake, which were both found with high levels of toxins. Buck Creek State Park, near Springfield, has also been under a contamination advisory since June 20.

If a waterway has recently had problems with algal blooms, it won’t likely be ready to swim in by the Fourth of July, Heis said.

“It’s not a problem that can be solved quickly,” Heiss said. “If there’s algal blooms, you can’t sweep them away or anything.”

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