The state’s policy on posting public health advisories at Ohio lakes could change in 2012, which would be welcome news to Buckeye Lake officials.

Glen Cobb, deputy director of recreation and resource management for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, joined about 30 representatives from area counties, townships and municipalities Thursday for a two-hour boat ride aboard Queen of the Lake II.

The state departments of health, natural resources and environmental protection will consider an idea promoted by Buckeye Lake officials to post warning signs all year at all Ohio lakes.

"We’re going to be taking that up in October," Cobb said. "This is an issue that’s evolving. This is relatively new to Ohio. We take public safety and health very seriously. It’s continually learning if we can do things better."

The fifth annual Leaders on the Lake event focused mostly on the recent public health advisories and the effect on Buckeye Lake tourism and activities.

The state posted health warnings of microcystin levels or algal blooms at Brooks, Fairfield and Crystal beaches in June or July, then reposted advisories last week for Brooks and Fairfield beaches, warning against swimming, wading or swallowing water.

Crystal Beach, in Licking County, has had no warnings since an algal bloom advisory ended June 30.

Merv Bartholow, president of Buckeye Lake for Tomorrow, told the gathering that the health advisories drove people away from Buckeye Lake.

"The local marina lost business, restaurants suffered, and people that lived here all their lives asked me if it was safe to go swimming," Bartholow said.

"The signs scare the daylights out of people and are not giving them any information on what’s going on, and some people are ignoring them."

The lake’s toxin level was 0.2 parts per billion when the algal bloom was found, Bartholow said, far less than the 1.0 level for safe drinking water and even below the 0.3 level for the city of Akron’s drinking water on the same day.

A state posted advisories whenever the algal bloom was spotted or when tests conclude microcystin levels are above 6 parts per billion. The World Health Organization standard is 20 parts per billion.

"The warning for 6 parts per billion is to protect children under 60 pounds, but the children would have to drink one cup of water per hour," Bartholow said.

Tom Green, president-elect of Buckeye Lake for Tomorrow, said the advisories certainly hurt business.

"Traffic is way down this year and you can see it’s a direct result of (advisory) postings going up and being reported in the media," Green said. "If anything, the lake is cleaner that it used to be."

Until two years ago, raw sewage seeped into the lake from septic tanks at south end cottages, Green said. Now, all residents are connected to sewer systems.

Buckeye Lake is much different than Auglaize County’s Grand Lake St. Marys, where the advisories began a couple years ago. Runoff from farms contributes to the toxin levels, but Buckeye Lake does not have as many adjacent farms as Grand Lake St. Mary’s.

"We’ve got quality farmers doing a good job and not contributing to the problem," Bartholow said.

J-me Braig, director of the Buckeye Lake Museum, said motor coach bus visits were down this year, but about 4,700, visited on Queen of the Lake II, an average year, down from a high of 5,600 in 2008.

"I’d say we rocked through pretty good," Braig said. "We were down a little. The algae hurt us a little."

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From the Zanesville Times Recorder