Saturday, May 5th, 2012
State's choice of words for "whole lake" alum treatment could have been better
By Daily Standard Staff
By NANCY ALLEN and AMY KRONENBERGER
GRAND LAKE - The state's choice to use "whole lake" to describe the alum treatment of Grand Lake this year could have been better, a state official said Friday.
Scott Fletcher, Ohio Department of Agriculture spokesman, reiterated that although the lake's total acreage did not receive alum, it will have a lakewide effect.
For months state officials have said at public forums and in news releases that this year the whole lake was going to receive alum to fight toxic blue-green algae blooms. After the treatment was completed Monday, officials said only the 4,900-acre center of the 13,500-acre lake was treated.
"We didn't make an application to the entire surface, but the application affected phosphorous levels lakewide because the alum is thoroughly mixed with wind and wave action," Fletcher said. "I will firmly say we treated the whole lake this year. We may not have put alum on the whole surface, but we treated the whole lake."
Fletcher said he couldn't answer why top officials referred to the alum treatment as covering the whole lake when the intention was never to do any more than last year. In 2011, state officials said they were going to treat the whole lake but scaled back the treatment over concerns high algae concentrations and low dissolved oxygen levels would cause a fish kill near the shoreline.
"What you're talking about is choice of words," he said. "We could have done a better job in framing expectations, but all along our goal has been to reduce phosphorous in the lake and the treatment will do that."
In a written statement, ODNR Director Jim Zehringer said "the alum application at Grand Lake St. Marys for 2012 treated the entire lake, as planned. The alum application reaches the entire lake due to the wind and waves, which serves to disperse the aluminum beyond the application area and throughout the lake. The entire lake is expected to see a decrease in the levels of phosphorus."
Fletcher said if the state had gone with a whole lake treatment last year, it would have been less than 10,000 acres because alum barges cannot enter water shallower than 3 feet deep.
The lake's center, where sediment core samples have shown phosphorous levels are the highest, is the best place to treat, he said.
"The dose that would have been applied (to outlying areas) would have been very low and would have only stripped the water column of phosphorous and would not have affected the phosphorous in the sediment," Fletcher said.
Scientists have said that internal phosphorous, that which is already in the lake sediment on the bottom, can continually recycle and become available to the algae.
Brian Miller, manager at Grand Lake St. Marys State Park, said no lake residents questioned him about why the alum barges weren't coming closer to shore. He said the public did not pay as close attention to this year's alum application because it was the second year.
"I can understand the confusion," Miller said. "At the end of the day we all have to be happy the state is giving the lake the attention it needs and deserves; we are the largest inland lake in the state of Ohio. We got to just keep moving forward, and if we have to do it incrementally, we'll just keep treating the lake incrementally."
Area residents contacted by the newspaper on Friday afternoon were dismayed by the apparent miscommunication.
"To me it's very disappointing," said Stan Grimm, part-owner of Behm's Restaurant. "In fact I asked about it because the way they were treating it, I didn't see how they could cover the whole lake."
Despite Grimm's disappointment, he's still thankful for everything the state has already done.
"I'm not ungrateful for what they did - because it did help last year, and we need all the help we can get," he said. "I'm always thankful for everything they do for the lake."
Dan Manning, owner of the Outdoorsman in St. Marys, said he was upset by the revelation.
"It was my understanding they were going to treat the entire lake and even go into the channels," he said. "It's very disappointing."
Carl "Red" Koverman of New Bremen said he thinks the state is making a big mistake by not stepping up the alum treatment.
"I think the state is really missing the boat if they don't finish the job they first promised," he said. "If they start cutting corners again, I think it's wrong. They just started getting people coming back because the state was supposed to clean it up."
"It's the polititians," Koverman continued. "You think they have good intentions; they promise to help. Then when they get elected and get what they want, they back out."
Connie Hutchins of Xenia, who spends her summers at Grand Lake, said if the lake isn't fixed, the area will lose a lot of people.
"It's a shame," she said. "I've been coming here since I was a little girl in the 50s, and I feel sorry for people because these little places (businesses) will close."
• The just completed alum treatment on Grand Lake was the largest application of its kind in the world.
• Alum binds with and deactivates phosphorous, making it unavailable to algae as a food source. Toxic algae blooms have resulted in water advisories and millions in lost tourism on the lake the last three summers. Most of the phosphorous in the lake runs off farmland in the 58,000-acre watershed.
• When alum binds to phosphorous, it won't let go - essentially forever. The fluffy, light-colored floc meshes with the mud on the lake's bottom and becomes undetectable.
• Alum is safely used in many city wastewater and drinking water treatment systems as a water clarifier.
• Treatments to Grand Lake in 2011 and this year represent 25 percent of the alum needed to optimally treat the lake.
• Just more than 1.8 million gallons of alum and 904,000 gallons of sodium aluminate were applied this year - a 1 percent increase over the amount applied last year.
• The chemicals were delivered on 670 semi-tanker loads.
• Last year's alum treatment reduced phosphorous levels by 56 percent in the lake's center and 20 to 30 percent in untreated areas.
• Ohio started testing for algae toxins in 2009.
• The state has spent $8.4 million on the two alum treatments on Grand Lake.
• HAB Aquatic Solutions of Nebraska was subcontracted to apply the alum.
- Nancy Allen
Facts presented by John Holz of HAB Aquatic Solutions during Thursday's agriculture breakfast meeting.
A story incorrectly identified Scott Fletcher as a spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Agriculture. He works for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
The error was in reporting.