Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012
By William Kincaid
State leaders defend action to help lake
  CELINA - The brown scum blanketing portions of Grand Lake the last couple of days was dead algae, according to Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director Jim Zehringer.
"We had the scum analyzed, and it's dead algae," he said Monday evening while in town with Gov. John Kasich for the annual Republican Party dinner. "That's a good thing. But there's a lot of algae out there."
Zehringer said he's unsure why the water is brown in some areas. Grand Lake typically appears green.
"We haven't seen that (before)," he said. "You talk to some of the people like Brain Miller (state park manager) that's been around the lake his whole life - we've never seen that color."
Zehringer stressed the state continues to aggressively do as much as it can for the lake, including consistent monitoring, and he asks the public for patience.
"We've been pretty upfront all along that we're trying to do as many things as we can for this lake," he said. "And this could be a bad year; it could be a good year. We don't know. We've done a whole lake treatment of the lake as far as treating it with alum."
Alum, which stops the growth of algae by deactivating its main food source, phosphorus, was applied to the center of lake the last two years at a cost of $8.4 million. State officials called this year's treatment whole lake because wave and wind action disperses the alum throughout the water.
The lake could be at the mercy of Mother Nature, Zehringer added.
"We haven't had any rain in the watershed for at least three weeks," he pointed out. "It's very dry, it's very hot, it's very calm."
Zehringer and Kasich made a stop at the lake Monday, and the scum that had been along Lake Shore Drive had disappeared, apparently due to wind breaking it up.
Zehringer said he knows the brown water is not from sediment runoff because of the lack of rain.
Water samples were pulled from the lake Monday with test results expected back Thursday. ODNR spokeswoman Bethany McCorkle expects the results to show high levels of the algae toxin microcystin. If tests confirm that, warning signs will go up around the lake.
Kasich on Monday warned against rushing to conclusions.
"I wouldn't be hyperventilating about projecting what's going to happen on Memorial Day," Kasich told the newspaper. "Let's see how things go. We've spent a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of money trying to get on top of this."
He said he didn't want to draw any conclusions until results are in.
"I know sometimes people want to write stories about, you know, we're going to shut the lake down and things are really going bad, but you got to calm down a little bit and not scare the public," he said.
State Rep. Jim Buchy, R-Greenville, who also was in town with Kasich, vocally supported the governor and the state's plan for Grand Lake.
"This is my 10th year in the legislature, (and) this is the first time we've had an administration that is working together to get at what we can do to have a long-term solution," Buchy said. "Understand, it took over a hundred years for this lake to get into the situation it is. So it's not going to be done overnight. The main thing is the governor and his staff people and administration - all of them directors - are working together to set in motion a plan that's going to make it better."
Kasich said his administration can't promise a fix but would continue to be aggressive in addressing the lake's problems.
"We've done more than anybody's ever even thought about doing and we'll continue to help. But I can't promise a fix for anything," he said. "We promised that we're going to think as aggressively as we can. We think about ways in which we can be effective here, but anybody who promises a fix is like somebody promising what the weather's going to be next week."
Robert Hiskey, a biology professor at Wright State University-Lake Campus, told the newspaper planktothrix (blue-green algae) has been the dominant algae in the lake for several years, concluding that the alum treatment has not caused the recent lake condition.
"On the other side, the alum hasn't 'flipped' the lake to a more desirable mix of algae either, at least to this point," he said. "I have no crystal ball to say if the situation would have been worse without alum. Any reduction in nutrient level is good, but at the levels we're dealing with, it may not show up visually."
Zehringer, who also met with the Lake Restoration Commission in a meeting closed to the media on Monday, said the group is happy with what the state is doing but also is confused about what is causing the lake's brown color.
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