The state will spend $5 million on an effort to keep toxic blue-green algae from ruining another summer at Grand Lake St. Marys.

The money will be used to buy aluminum sulfate, a chemical that binds with phosphorus in water before algae can use it as food.

Although $5 million is not enough to treat the entire 13,000-acre lake, officials with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources hope it will be effective if used in "strategic locations."

The money will come from a pot of federal dollars that the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency uses to hand out low-interest and zero-interest loans for water- and sewer-improvement projects.

Ohio EPA spokeswoman Dina Pierce said the Department of Natural Resources, which manages the lake as a state park, won’t be expected to repay the $5 million.

"This is something that obviously has an urgent need," Pierce said.

Grand Lake St. Marys, in western Ohio, has been considered one of the state’s most-polluted water bodies for years because of manure that runs off nearby farms during storms.

Last year, blue-green algae grew so thick feeding on phosphorus from that manure that the state warned people not to touch the water, take boats out on the lake or eat fish caught there.

Those warnings and fears of algae-produced liver and nerve toxins caused a steep drop in park visitors. As a result, tourism income for lake-area businesses plunged.

Heidi Hetzel-Evans, a spokeswoman for the Department of Natural Resources, said the state hopes to start treating the lake with alum in late May.

Milt Miller, co-founder of the Grand Lake St. Marys Restoration Commission, a group of lake-area business leaders, said past studies have found high concentrations of phosphorus in mud along the lake’s eastern shore and near the mouths of eight creeks that feed the lake.

Miller said he’s hopeful that the alum will help keep the algae at bay.

"There are no guarantees," he said. "All we can do is continue to forge ahead with the science and the technology available to us."


By Spencer Hunt, The Columbus Dispatch