Archive for Monday, August 30, 2010

Algae contamination likely to grow

Boaters Rob Fanning, Olathe, left, and Dean Penny, Lawrence, trade fishing stories in August 2010 near the Clinton Lake Marina. At that time, Lawrence’s water supply was under attack from blue-green algae, and the KDHE has issued public warnings to stay out of some lakes in the state because of the plant’s toxicity. Clinton Lake is not among those affected.

Boaters Rob Fanning, Olathe, left, and Dean Penny, Lawrence, trade fishing stories in August 2010 near the Clinton Lake Marina. At that time, Lawrence’s water supply was under attack from blue-green algae, and the KDHE has issued public warnings to stay out of some lakes in the state because of the plant’s toxicity. Clinton Lake is not among those affected.

August 30, 2010


The city of Lawrence isn’t the only place under siege by an aquatic menace that’s causing a funky taste in the drinking water.

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Water utilities up and down the Kaw River have reported similar problems. And, public health warnings and advisories have been issued for seven bodies of water across the state.

The culprit: blue-green algae blooms.

As the state’s aging reservoirs fill up with nutrient-rich sediment, these algae blooms aren’t expected to go away anytime soon, scientists say.

“I suspect the water quality issues are going to get more frequent and more severe,” said Don Huggins, an aquatic ecologist for the Kansas Biological Survey. “You’re not going to see it improve because the water body holding it is an aging reservoir, filling with nutrients and filling with sediment.”

A good growing year

Blue-green algae, which has the scientific name of cyanobacterial blooms, isn’t entirely evil. The plant is a natural component of all aquatic ecosystems, surviving on Earth for more than 3 billion years, according to Tom Langer, who is the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s director of the Bureau of Environmental Health.

The recent problem is a result of a good growing year.

A wet spring and early summer washed nutrient-rich water runoff into the state’s reservoirs. That was followed by calm, sunny days where temperatures topped out above 100 degrees. Water temperatures went up, creating ideal growing conditions for algae.

“Low wind conditions combined with hot weather usually are all it takes in most lakes with high phosphorus for blooms to thrive,” said Marvin Boyer, a lake water quality program coordinator with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Boyer responded to questions through e-mail.

Blue-green algae is only a public health concern during growth spurts like this summer, when it multiplies rapidly creating what is known as algae blooms.

These algae blooms leave high concentrations of toxins in the water, which can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, skin rash, eye irritation and respiratory distress in humans. For pets and animals, drinking the water can cause serious illness and death.

When toxins reach that level, the KDHE issues warnings for people and pets to stay out of the lakes.

From lake to water glass

The harmful toxins are filtered out when water is treated, which makes the reservoir water safe to drink by the time it comes out of the tap.

However, there is no solution for eliminating the less than pleasant smell and taste that comes from dying blue-green algae.

Lawrence residents started noticing the odd taste about a week and half ago. The dead algae plants aren’t coming from Clinton Lake, said Jeanette Klamm, projects manager for the city of Lawrence’s utilities department. The source is the Tuttle Creek Lake, near Manhattan, where an expansive algae bloom is present. Water released from the dam sends the dead algae downstream to Lawrence.

How long Lawrence residents will taste the water depends on the life cycle of the algae plants. In the meantime, Klamm said the city is trying to push as much of the water supply as it can through the Clinton treatment plant.

As the weather warms back up and more water is used, the funky tasting water will return as the city resorts to the Kaw River Water Treatment Plant to meet the demand.

At lower algae levels, Klamm said the city can mask the taste and odor problems by boosting the amount of carbon used in treatment. But eventually, the city reaches a limit on how much carbon is used. Too much carbon clogs the filters.

Managing the problem

This latest battle with blue-green algae has prompted the city to look back to see how frequently taste and odor problems are occurring.

“Is it increasing, or are we paying attention to it more?” Klamm asked.

The KDHE doesn’t have historical data on how many public health warnings have been issued over the years because of algae blooms in bodies of water.

By working to lower the amount of nutrients entering the reservoirs, the severity and regularity of algae blooms can be reduced, said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Boyer.

That would entail preventing erosion, fixing leaking septic systems, minimizing animal waste that enters waterways, planting buffer zones and applying fertilizer more wisely.

More drastic measures, such as dredging, will have to be taken in half a century when the state’s reservoirs reach their life expectancy. That day could come sooner than expected as reservoirs such as Clinton Lake are filling with sediment faster than engineers had anticipated, said Huggins, of the Kansas Biological Survey.

“In 40 to 60 years, the major issue won’t just be quality but quantity. You’ll pay more for less,” he said.

Huggins said he believes elected officials need to start preparing now for that inevitability.

“I think we have reached that time where we will have to begin to plan for the future,” he said. “We can’t just say it is 20 years out.”


Ken Lassman 7 years, 6 months ago

The devil's in the details, isn't it? Like: who pays for the dredging and how much will it cost? KS Biological Survey did a report a few years back called "Current State Trends and Spatial Variability of Sedimentation in Kansas Reservoirs" and concluded that a 7,000 acre reservoir filled up with sediment would cost 1 Billion dollars to dredge.

The first dredging of a citiy reservoir in the state is getting underway, and it'll cost over 6 million dollars, and will be paid for by local bonds. A lot of questions will begin to be answered by this project, like actual costs, what happens to the anaerobic soils that are removed from the reservoir, etc.

Mark Jakubauskas 7 years, 6 months ago

If you're referring to the Mission Lake project in Horton (Brown County), about $4 million is being paid by local bonds, and $2.6 million is being paid by the State of Kansas/State Conservation Commission, under the Water Supply Restoration Program funded by the Clean Drinking Water Fee Fund. One million cubic yards of sediment were to be removed from the lake under the contract.

Ken Lassman 7 years, 6 months ago

How long does it take anaerobic soils to become aerobic again from this kind of project? Does sludge have to be spread out and inoculated to speed up the process? I remember we took some sludge out of our pond one year and nothing would grow on the sludge for a year or two.

down_the_river 7 years, 6 months ago

This will likely be a much bigger issue going forward. This bacterial contamination of the water supply is akin to some food borne illness outbreaks, in the sense that boiling the water will not deactivate the toxins that are present. The first recommendation from KDHE in their advisory is for cities to seek alternate sources of water, not easily done for Topeka or Lawrence. They also report carbon filtration may be effective for almost 100% removal of taste and odor compounds including, presumably, any algal toxins. This suggests that if you taste it, the filtration is inadequate for toxin removal.

The comment in the article - The harmful toxins are filtered out when water is treated, which makes the reservoir water safe to drink by the time it comes out of the tap - suggests testing for the toxins has been done on the City of Lawrence water. I doubt it. It also contradicts the report from the USGS Algal Toxins study group that says of the bacteria - All blooms with detectable taste-and-odor compounds also had detectable toxins.

While there is no reason for panic, since little information is known about the concentrations of the toxins in our water, or what the long term effects may be, it's certainly a problem. The contradictions from various government sources simply suggests someone is not telling the truth.

Frederic Gutknecht IV 7 years, 6 months ago

Laissez les bons temps rouler plus d'et mourir.

Bud Stagg 7 years, 6 months ago

figures that the smell is coming from Manhattan...

Paul R Getto 7 years, 6 months ago

This is a good example of how vulnerable we are in an interconnecting web. Agriculture, growth of population and increased use of water, aging water supplies, etc. combine to give us new issues. Fresh water is a rare commodity, for which we still pay much less than it is worth. The algae is one symptom of these complex problems. Lawrence is already buying water from, I believe, Carbondale to make up for the deficit.

John Spencer 7 years, 6 months ago

Cyanobacterial blooms is not the scientific name of blue-green algae. It's then name of the result of a rapid increase of blue-green algae.

mr_right_wing 7 years, 6 months ago

Great news for the bottled water industry as well as water filter manufacturers!!

Mark Jakubauskas 7 years, 6 months ago

Traditional excavation is indeed one approach to removing sediment in a reservoir. However, there are challenges associated with that approach, including dewatering of the sediment to permit access and removal. Hydraulic dredging - in a sense, a giant underwater vacuum cleaner, where the sediment is piped to a disposal area - has been the approach used on several smaller Kansas lakes (Lone Star, Dabinawa, Mission).

Mark Jakubauskas 7 years, 6 months ago

Some of the other lakes listed by KDHE as having current or recent advisories or warnings due to algae include Central Park Pond (Shawnee County), Meade State Lake (Meade County), Veteran's Lake (Barton County), Santa Fe Lake (Butler County), and Lovewell Reservoir (Jewell County). Other lakes have been affected by algae outbreaks but have not been closed to recreation or other uses.

Dredging is but one of several solutions, and there is likely no "one-size-fits-all" remedy for the siltation, loss of water capacity, and effects on water quality (taste and odor issues). For some reservoirs, such as Mission Lake up in Horton, dredging was the remedy chosen. Other alternatives may include raising normal pool water levels, building new reservoirs, or abandoning silted-up reservoirs. However, there is little question that Kansas is reliant on these federal, state, and local reservoirs for drinking water, and that steps will need to be taken to secure, protect, and restore them.

Mark Jakubauskas 7 years, 6 months ago

Yes, that was us. "Applied Science and Technology for Reservoir Assessment", ASTRA. A program of the Kansas Biological Survey.

Caesar_Augustus 7 years, 6 months ago

A week ago my 2 year old was swimming off our boat and ingested some water. He had the squirts something fierce for four days and in general, felt crummy. I do believe there is a danger in the water at Clinton Lake.

Jennifer Dropkin 7 years, 6 months ago

Christine, you didn't elaborate on the source of the "nutrient-rich" sediment. How much of the nutrients come from fertilizer runoff from farms? How much of that comes from cow patty or pig patty?

The reservoirs are silting up, and that's a problem, but so's the food the blue-green algae are eating. In other words, I think we humans have something to do with that, too.

Clickker 7 years, 6 months ago

is that Dean Penny in that picture???

Now, that dude can drink some beer!!

Kristine Bailey 7 years, 6 months ago

Did ya know there are lots of water shed ponds around Clinton Lake? They are there to catch the silt before it gets to Clinton. They were actually planning for this. We have lots of Highly Erodible Land (HEL) around folks. Get with the program!

mr_right_wing 7 years, 6 months ago

What ya gonna do?

You just have to shrug your shoulders, get a goofy obama grin on your face and say....

George W. strikes again.

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