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Thursday, June 2nd, 2011

Alum away

$3.4 million lake treatment begins

By Shelley Grieshop

Grand Lake St. Marys State Park Manager Brian Miller takes a group of state offi. . .

GRAND LAKE - The most aggressive effort to alleviate Grand Lake of toxic algae blooms has begun with a $3.4 million chemical treatment.
Two barges will spray approximately 2.6 million gallons of aluminum sulfate (alum) and sodium aluminate across 4,900 acres in the center of the lake. The process began today and will continue seven days per week all month during daylight hours, as weather permits, state officials learned Wednesday as they toured the staging area along West Bank Road.
The project is aimed at neutralizing phosphorus, which feeds the blue-green algae and its toxin-producing blooms that closed the lake to visitors last summer. It is hoped this year's alum treatment will be enough to stave off severe algae blooms.
"On a good day, each (barge) will cover about 30 acres per run and complete three or four runs each day," explained Tadd Barrow of HAB Aquatic Solutions, a Nebraska-based company hired to conduct the treatment.
On hand for the informational tour was Department of Agriculture Director Jim Zehringer of Fort Recovery and EPA Director Scott J. Nally.
EPA issued an advisory two weeks ago that warned against swimming, wading and swallowing the lake water and recommended avoiding surface scum. Fishing, boating and fish consumption are allowed.
The algae bloom recently identified in the lake is planktothrix - not aphanizomenon - the type that plagued the water last year, Nally said Wednesday.
"The algae we're seeing now is the algae that's historically been here," he said.
Unfortunately, it could create the same foul-smelling mats of blue and green scum found on the water's surface last year, he added.
"We're hoping we don't have that same experience," Nally said.
The 24-by-40-foot barges will carry the alum and sodium aluminate in six, 2,500-gallon tanks. The chemicals will be loaded, transported and dispensed separately because if mixed they would solidify, company officials said.
Both chemicals are deemed safe for the environment and wildlife. But as a precaution, local residents have been tapped to watch for possible fish kills, Nally said. Water quality tests will be performed throughout the project by Ohio EPA and the U.S. Geological Survey.
Each barge will have one driver who will navigate by a GPS unit programmed for the area to be treated.
"It will shut down (the spray of chemicals) if we go out of the area," said John Holz, the company's water quality specialist and operator of one of the barges.
The barges will be docked nightly at the West Bank site; company personnel and surveillance equipment will keep the area secure.
HAB Aquatic is using Grand Lake as a "model" or experiment that could help more than 20 other Ohio lakes with similar algae problems, company officials said.
"This is the largest alum treatment project we've ever done," Holz said. "Actually, I believe it's the largest one anyone's ever done."
The cost of the venture is being paid with an Ohio EPA loan that won't have to be repaid.
Zehringer said the local endeavor is the 11th alum project tackled by HAB Aquatic, which has a history of success throughout the Midwest.
"I have confidence in them, but we know there are no guarantees," he said. "We could end up in worse shape than last year."
Officials expect alum treatments will be needed for consecutive years to keep algae blooms at bay.
The alum application is one step in a multi-faceted, multi-year approach to restoring the lake. Increased dredging, rough fish removal, installation of a treatment train and other water quality initiatives continue.
Zehringer advised the public to have patience "because we're doing everything we can." He praised the work of local folks like the Lake Restoration Commission, its facilitator Tom Knapke and farmers in the Grand Lake Watershed who have taken steps to eliminate the manure run-off that brings phosphorus into the lake.
"If you see (them), give them a pat on the back," Zehringer said. "It's the local people here that took the bull by the horns and made this happen."
Additional online story on this date
A 26-year-old Celina man faces nearly two decades in prison after pleading guilty Wednesday in Mercer County Common Pleas Court to felonious assault and two counts of endangering children. [More]
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