The state plans to spend an additional $750,000 in its battle against the toxic blue-green algae that has kept visitors away from Grand Lake St. Marys in western Ohio.

The money, part of a two-year, $7 billion transportation budget that state lawmakers sent to Gov. John Kasich last week, will expand dredging at the state park.

It more than doubles the $600,000 the Ohio Department of Natural Resources planned to spend this spring to remove phosphorus-rich mud from algae-feeding "hot spots" throughout the 13,000-acre lake.

"This truly was a surprise for us," said Laura Jones, a department spokeswoman. "At this point, we’re looking at our plan and how we can most effectively use that money."

Blue-green algae, also called cyanobacteria, are common in Ohio streams and lakes but can grow thick in water that has high concentrations of phosphorus and nitrates.

Fed by manure that ran off nearby farms, the algae grew so thick at Grand Lake last summer that the state warned people not to touch the water, take boats onto the lake or eat fish caught there. Fears of liver and nerve toxins excreted by the algae scared away visitors and torpedoed tourism.

Toxic algae first were reported at Grand Lake in the summer of 2009. They returned in June, and by July concentrations of the liver toxin microcystin were more than 100 times higher than a safety standard the World Health Organization set for swimmers. In September, state health officials said algae toxins probably caused seven people to get sick.

Much of the phosphorus in the lake bubbles up from bits of manure and soil that settle on the lake bottom after storms wash them off farm fields. Similar algae problems plagued 19 other public lakes and ponds across the state last year.

The state had planned to remove 200,000 tons of sediment from spots in Grand Lake that had been considered to contain the most phosphorus. How much more will be dredged isn’t clear, Jones said, because officials will have to find areas near the lake where they can dump the mud safely.

State Sen. Keith Faber said he was able to increase the amount of money set aside in the transportation budget for inland-lake dredging. Although it’s not specifically designated for Grand Lake, the Celina Republican said Natural Resources Department officials pledged that they would spend it there.

"The goal here is to allow them to operate more hours and increase their dredging capacity," Faber said.

At the same time, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency plans to spend about $5 million to treat lake water with aluminum sulfate this spring. The compound, also called alum, binds with phosphorus in water so the algae can’t feed on it.

The plans for dredging and alum fall well short of the goals outlined in a cleanup plan that a group of local business leaders devised in January. But the additional money will help, said Tim Lovett, president of the Lake Improvement Association. "Hopefully, we’ll get a fair amount of this stuff out of the lake."


By Spencer Hunt, The Columbus Dispatch