Area residents gathered Saturday morning for an informational session concerning Grand Lake St. Marys.
The Grand Lake St. Marys Restoration Commission (LRC) held a public presentation detailing the condition of Grand Lake St. Marys, as well as the efforts in place to restore the lake.
“I don’t think, as compared to other presentations we’ve made, that we need to convince anybody here how important the lake is in so many aspects of our lives,” said Milt Miller, co-founder of the LRC. “You have to trust our team. I can tell you, you have a very patient, dedicated team that is literally working tirelessly on this problem.”
Miller’s presentation focused on the master plan for the lake, which included several critical steps in the restoration process.
“One of the things that we are very proud of and has been instrumental in our success is the locally prepared master plan,” he said. “They were literally stunned at the thoroughness of this report. It’s based on science, it’s based on economics and it’s not a whining type of presentation — this was the key ingredient in the initial acceptance and embracement by the state for help for our lake.”
Miller said there are two strategies in place for the lake — one is short term to “get our economy back,” while the other is focused on the long-term health of the lake. One short-term fix was the alum treatment, which was the first step he listed in the master plan.
“When introduced into the water column, (alum) binds the phosphorus-latent silt together, and when it binds it together, it makes it heavy,” Miller said. “And when it makes it heavy, it falls to the bottom of the lake and is sequestered down there and gets it out of the water column.”
Because the phosphorus feeds the algae, stripping the element from the water column starves out the algae. Three different methods of applying alum to the lake have been tested.
One way was by simply spraying it on, another method introduces hydrogen peroxide first, which killed the existing algae in the water, and is then followed up by alum. The third method used granular alum, which Miller said was “quite effective.”
“The original presentation into the lake was going to be a lakewide application with varying degrees of potency,” he said.
“What the scientists have told us is the shallow areas outside of that rectangle, as the alum works and they lock together and the algae dies and starves that area of oxygen, and given the fact that it would have been in the shallowest part of our lake, we would have had massive fish kills. So what we opted to do was scale that back and focus on 4,900 acres in the center of the lake with a more concentrated application because the water is deeper, to protect the fish.”
Dredging was the second critical step included in the master plan. Currently, there are three dredges in operation with 200,000 cubic yards of sediment to be removed from the lake set as the goal for 2011.
The third component of the plan is the beneficial use of organic waste. By finding alternative uses for manure in the watershed, the amount ending up in the lake can be limited. No. 4 was the establishment of a treatment train.
“Within our master plan we have identified the treatment train as one of the solutions that we’re pretty high on,” he said. “Simply stated, a treatment train is a series of mechanical devices that simulate a wetland and as you know, wetlands are the key kidneys of a water body and we don’t have many left at all to speak of.”
A fifth component is the removal of rough fish from the lake, which includes carp, gizzard shad and quillback carp suckers.
“Rough fish removal — this is our No. 1 discussion topic in the public,” he said. “By body mass, our lake is heavily lopsided 90 percent by rough fish. Rough fish, by the nature of their existence, are rooters — they feed off the bottom. And as they root for stuff to eat, that fluffs up the silt and reintroduces the phosphorus back up into the water column.”
Aeration and circulation was yet another critical step Miller spoke of in the master plan.
“The turnover of our lake is very, very slow — extremely slow,” he said. “The one common thing that all of our scientific community, regardless of who they represent, come back to is aeration and circulation. What we’ve found is if we can get dissolved oxygen to the lake’s bottom, there are good microbes down there that literally consume the silt and phosphorus. We call it natural dredging.”
Two Airy Gators were installed in 2010 and have been in operation this year. Finally, Miller noted the implementation of floating wetlands as another component of the master plan.
“The plant stays up above the water line and forms a root structure down in the lake and absorbs the nutrients out of the water,” he said. “We’re utilizing those in our treatment trains.”
More than 5,000 floating wetland plantings will be supplied and managed by volunteers in 2011. Miller also shared a few notable dollar amounts with the public. He noted that $468,582 had been spent as of Dec. 31, 2010. Of that amount, $355,693 was spent on equipment, $47,153 was spent on infrastructure, $65,142 was spent on scientists/consultants and $595 was used for fundraising costs He also noted that total donations last year amounted to $659,235.
Despite the recent posted advisories, Miller also pointed out that the lake is still open for use.
“One of the things that we flinched about as the media hit Thursday — they painted a pretty dire picture — and two of the positives that have been lost in that is that the lake’s open to boating … and the fish are safe to eat,” Miller said. “So the lake is not shut down — we’re open for business.”
For more information about the lake efforts, visit the Lake Improvement Association’s website at LakeImprovement.com.
By Michelle Stein, The Evening Leader