Toxic blue-green algae shows up at Potato Creek State Park
By Ed Semmler South Bend Tribune Aug 25, 2019
NORTH LIBERTY — It was a day made for the beach with temperatures in the mid-80s and humid. But no one was in the water at Potato Creek State Park.
A church group from Buchanan was picnicking under the trees just beyond the sand while a few members were rinsing off in the bath house after wading in the lake. Some campers hiked the shoreline, but avoided the water.
Everyone knew the risks that the water posed thanks to a big sign at the beach and a warning on Potato Creek’s website, indicating that blue-green algae had been detected in the lake as well as many others under the control of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
“I saw it on the Potato Creek site,” said Nate Babcock, senior minister at Buchanan Christian Church. “The only thing we forgot to bring was the soap.”
Despite the heat and humidity and pleas from his youngest son, Warsaw resident Jason Chilafoe kept his two dogs as well as his kids out of the water because of the warnings. “How do you get a little kid not to get water in his mouth?” he asked.
The advisory at Worster Lake means that swimming and boating are permitted but people should avoid contact with algae, not drink the water and shower with soap after swimming, as contact can cause skin irritation.
Pets must be kept out of the water.
That’s because they have a tendency to drink the water and groom themselves after they get wet. Earlier this month, three dogs died in Wilmington, NC, just hours after swimming in a pond that contained the toxic algae.
“The problem for a vet is that by the time we see the animal, it’s often too late,” said Mariah Covey, a veterinarian at the Kryder Clinic in Granger, referring to the speed at which the toxin can cause neurological and liver damage.
Though she personally hasn’t handled any such cases, Covey recommended that pet owners exercise caution and keep their animals away from ponds and lakes unless they’re sure the water is safe.
If an animal does get in, it would be wise to immediately follow up with a quick shower with shampoo to remove any potential blue-green algae or other potential irritants for that matter, said Covey.
Animal deaths have occurred closer to home.
Earlier this summer, four dogs died just south of Cadillac, Mich., after they frolicked in the water while their owner worked on removing the vegetation in his farm pond.
The state was able to test the water the next day, but no blue-green algae was detected, said Gary Kohlhepp, a manager in the state’s Water Resources Division. Still, he said, the deaths were “definitely suspicious.”
And during a summer drought a few years ago, dogs did die as a result of blue-green algae at the Salamonie Reservoir southeast of Rochester, said Cyndi Wagner, chief of the targeted monitoring section for the Indiana Department of Environment Management.
Though there are many types of algae, there are varieties that are blue-green that produce toxic substances. All algae does especially well when there is a lot of sun, warmth, low turbulence and nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus to feed on, according to scientists.
Besides its toxicity, the blue-green variety is distinguished by its bright green to gray silver metallic appearance, but Wagner believes that’s a risky way of determining whether the water is safe.
“Most of the time, you can’t tell by looking at it,” Wagner explained.
A simple test to ensure water is low on any type of algae is to step in to about your knee. If you can see your foot, the water is pretty free of algae, said Wagner, who quickly added, however, that a labratory is about the only setting to safely determine whether the blue-green variety is present.
“You have to do it under a microscope,” she said.
In Michigan, blue-green algae has been detected most often in the southeastern portion of the state, Kohlhepp said. Though it was detected at a very low level in Paw Paw Lake last year, lakes in southwestern Michigan have generally been free of blue-green algae, which caused a municipal water problem in Toledo a few years ago.
“We have many thousands of lakes in Michigan, and it’s only a problem in a relatively small percentage,” said Kohlhepp, adding that it typically isn’t found in streams unless they are moving extremely slow.
The problem most often occurs in bodies of water that can easily warm up and are fed by runoff from farms and even homes using too much fertilizer, especially products containing phosphorus.
IDEM has been testing public beaches in state-managed parks since 2010, said Wagner, explaining that the problem has become more prevalent because of warmer summers and an overabundance of nitrogen and especially phosphorus.
Those who want to help should minimize their use of fertilizer, especially products containing phosphorus, Wagner said.
“If the predictions come true for heavy rains that cause runoff, hotter summers and less rain in the summer, then it’s fair to say this is going to continue to be an issue moving forward,” Kohlhepp said.
Source: South Bend Tribune