A feeling of cautious optimism is working its way around the shores of Grand Lake St. Marys as state agencies gear up for an aggressive attack on conditions that led to a cyanobacteria outbreak last summer — and the most miserable recreation season in memory.

The blooms on the lake were so bad that it was deemed off-limits to any use for a time. At boat dealership and repair shop Freedom Outdoors, which just opened two weeks ago, technician Sam Snavely proudly announced Friday that he just sold out of used boats, 17 in all.

“We’re expecting a good season up here,” he said. “Everybody has a good feeling.”

Customer and lifelong lake resident Berry Silver, 71, laments the day decades ago when various development projects removed acres of shoreline cattails that helped keep the lake cleaner. Now, plans are to restore some of that with re-created wetlands. “I don’t think it will come back overnight, but it will come back,” he said. “They (the state) are really trying to do something.”

At another new business in town, the Sugar Tin cafe on Spring Street downtown, Diana Sadler, 19, served up ice cream and homemade pies. She’s looking forward to a good summer despite last year. “A lot of people think it will look up with everything going on,” she said.

In his office on the lake, Grand Lake St. Marys Park Manager Brian Miller said he hopes season-long half-price rates on camping spots and cabins will entice visitors. Fishing has turned up some good bluegill catches lately, he added. A more or less normal schedule of seasonal events is on paper, at least.

“This community will move forward,” he said. “If there are algal blooms, it won’t be for lack of state action.”

The stepped up attack includes dosing the entire lake with alum to lock up phosphorous feeding the algae, dredging hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of sediment and building the first of what could be many impoundments in feeder streams to intercept farm runoff.

But for all the sophisticated tactics, much weighs on conditions that can’t be controlled. A very wet spring followed by an unusually hot summer fired up the cyanobacteria in 2010. This year, the lake’s condition will largely rest on the same weather factors, said Russ Gibson of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. Bacteria-friendly weather is blamed for similar algae problems that plagued 19 other public lakes and ponds across the state last year. Major flooding earlier this year has prompted some worries that more farm runoff has washed into the lake.

This week, the state announced plans to spend an additional $750,000 to dredge phosphorous-rich sediment at the 13,000-acre lake, more than doubling the $600,000 the Ohio Department of Natural Resources planned to spend this spring.

In 2009, the state first reported toxins from the bacteria at Grand Lake. By July 2010, the liver toxin microcystin was found at more than 100 times higher than the safety standard set by the World Health Organization for swimmers. In September, state health officials said algae toxins likely made seven people sick.

For local residents, work on the lake can’t start soon enough.

“We are doing everything we can short term,” said state Sen. Keith Faber, R-Celina, who lives near Wright State University’s Lake Campus. “At this point, I am hopefully optimistic. This is long term. Even if it is a perfect year, people should not be lulled into a false sense of security. We need to keep working on it.”

Bringing back Grand Lake St. Marys 2011

April: Alum dosing in three demonstration areas. Project is to refine dosage levels.

• Six weeks of OEPA monitoring follows. Bids accepted by Mercer County Community Development for floating wetlands in Prairie Creek cove. Plants picked for highest phosphorous uptake possible.

• Dredging begins using three dredges that should remove in excess of 200,000 cubic yards of sediment. Rough fish removal – carp, gizzard shad and quillback – begins. The fish stir up sediment.

May: Anticipated $5 million lake wide treatment with alum, or aluminum sulfate. Project now out for bid. Fish kills are not anticipated with treatment because the chemical will be buffered. Monitoring follows.

June: Installation begins on $900,000 “treatment train” on Prairie Creek, one of eight feeder streams, but construction could take a year. It includes sediment collector, restored 18-acre wetlands, floating wetlands. Rough fish removal continues.

Late fall: Dredging wraps up for season.


By Steve Bennish, Middletown Journal