Well aware that the clock is ticking toward another toxic summer of algae, newly appointed state officials pledged to take action yesterday after meeting with a Grand Lake St. Marys advocacy group.
Scott Nally of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, David Mustine of the Department of Natural Resources and James Zehringer of the Department of Agriculture said they traveled to the western Ohio lake during their first week on the job to show Gov. John Kasich’s commitment to cleaning up the algae that choked Grand Lake and 19 other public lakes and ponds last year.
During the morning meeting, the Grand Lake St. Marys Restoration Commission urged the new directors to dredge the polluted lake and apply a chemical this spring to starve the algae.
"It’s a state lake, but it’s a regional issue," said Jared Ebbing, a member of the local commission who laid out the group’s strategic plan to save the lake.
But while all three officials called toxic algae a serious issue, none could say what action will be taken or who will pay for it.
"We’ll guarantee we take action. We can’t guarantee success," Nally said.
The 13,000-acre lake and state park in Mercer and Auglaize counties was a popular spot for boaters and campers until tests revealed the presence of algae-produced liver and nerve toxins in the water.
Fed by phosphorus from manure that runs off nearby farms during storms, the algae grew so dense over the summer that the state warned visitors not to touch the water, take boats onto the lake or eat fish caught there.
People and pets got sick, fish died and tourists stayed away. Business dried up.
Then-Gov. Ted Strickland introduced rules that would curb farm pollution flowing into Grand Lake. But in December, Kasich told members of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation that he would not support rules that punish all farmers for the actions of a few.
The Grand Lake St. Marys Restoration Commission’s report also calls for treating each of the lake’s eight tributaries. The treatment involves a series of devices intended to capture phosphorus in silt and stream water before it gets into the lake.
The plan also calls for dredging polluted silt from the lake bottom, focusing first on phosphorus-rich "hot spots," including the eastern edge of the lake. The silt then would be used to build islands within the lake, Ebbing said.
A third recommendation calls for lakewide netting to remove carp and other bottom-feeding fish. Ebbing said the fish uproot underwater plants and stir up phosphorus.
The group also asked the state to forgo a second test of aluminum sulfate, or alum, a compound intended to "rob" the water of phosphorus and keep it from rising from the bottom of the lake.
Alum tested over the fall was 50 to 60 percent effective at two test sites and didn’t work at all in a third. An environmental consultant, Tetra Tech, has asked to conduct a second round of tests after ice melts at the lake this spring.
Ebbing said those results should prompt the state to go forward with lakewide applications before summer.
Strickland’s administration rejected dredging, saying that it would cost tens of millions of dollars and that there is no place to dump the dredged material.
The state also said that treating the entire lake with alum would cost $5million to $10 million.
Ebbing said the new agency directors were "extremely positive," and he believes they will take action.
"We are hopeful," he said.