Tuesday, July 19th, 2011
By Nancy Allen
Website lets public view live lake data from stations
  GRAND LAKE - State officials will be keeping an eye on Grand Lake without leaving their offices.
However officials were in the area Monday to view five water quality monitoring stations put in the lake in May and to announce a website providing the data.
"We can start to see when the algae is going to bloom," Ohio EPA Director Scott Nally said when explaining the purpose of the stations. "We're trying to see when the toxins trip, what are the right conditions."
Scientists do not know why blue-green algae produces toxins at certain times and not others. The dominant algae that has plagued the lake for several years is planktothrix.
Nally said officials hope the data can help explain why a different species (aphanizomenon) dominated the lake last year, covering it with thick, foul-smelling mats of algae.
"We have created a strategic partnership with an Ohio-based company that saves the state money while providing timely data on the lake's water quality," Nally said in a news release. "This has saved Ohio EPA a lot of time. Without this equipment, staff would have had to travel to the lake for 40 straight days to gather the data."
Four of the solar-powered monitoring stations are located in each corner of a 4,900-acre, rectangle-shaped area in the lake's center, which was treated with alum last month. A fifth station is in the center of the treatment area.
The devices automatically measure and record levels for water temperature, dissolved oxygen, water ph (acidity) and chlorophyll, which indicates algae density. The results will be accessible to the public online at livelakedata.com within 15 minutes of collection.
Nally said the stations will be operational until at least November, when toxin levels typically drop due to cooler weather. Officials will then determine how many to keep using in subsequent summers.
Gayle Rominger, executive vice president of YSI Incorporated of Yellow Springs, the monitoring station manufacturer, said it's important to gather data over several seasons to get useful information.
Four of the stations are being operated by the state, and the fifth by the U.S. Geological Survey. The use of one of the state's stations was donated by YSI; the others are being rented for about $24,000, Nally said.
The lake is under a public health advisory due to toxins. The public is advised against wading or swallowing the water. Boating and eating the lake's fish are OK. This is the third consecutive summer the lake has been under a water quality advisory.
Nally said he is talking with Ohio Department of Natural Resources officials to try to find funds for another alum treatment next year. The $3.4 million for this year's treatment came from the Ohio EPA Water Pollution Control Loan Fund and won't need repaid. State officials said it is unlikely the funding could be used next year.
Alum is being used as a short-term solution to lessen algae blooms and improve tourism in the region, which suffered millions in losses the last two years. Ohio EPA 319 grant money is a possibility, Nally said, adding that any funding decision would be made this fall.
ODNR already has committed funding for additional dredging and rough fish removal. Both also are short-term solutions.
The long-term solution is to lessen ongoing nutrient runoff from mostly farmland in the 58,000-acre watershed that flows into the lake. Runoff of phosphorous found in manure and commercial fertilizers is the main nutrient feeding the algae.
County, state and federal officials and watershed farmers are working on ways to lessen nutrient runoff. Millions of dollars in conservation funding and about a dozen additional state and federal employees have been assigned to the watershed in recent years.

Accessing info:
Other public websites announced recently include:
  • www.odh.ohio.gov/healthybeaches, to check for E. coli bacteria and/or harmful algal bloom advisories at the 62 monitored beaches at Lake Erie and other state parks.
www.epa.state.oh.us/dsw/HAB.aspx, to get the most up to date advisories and toxin readings for Grand Lake or any other state lake and information on toxic blue-green algae.
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