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Illinois hunting and fishing

Algae collects at the shore Friday, Sept. 7, 2012, at Lake Le-Aqua-Na State Park in Lena. Photos by Max Gersh

Algae outbreak forces officials to close northern Illinois lakes

September 09, 2012 at 10:48 PM

Rockford Register Star

OCKFORD — An algae outbreak has closed off several lakes in northern Illinois to boaters and swimmers. The blue-green algae, which release potentially harmful toxins into the water, has flourished because of the warm, dry and sunny weather.

Lake Le-Aqua-Na State Park closed its beach about a month early this summer to protect swimmers and pets from the toxins. The communities of Westlake Village in Winnebago, Candlewick Lake in Poplar Grove and Wonder Lake in McHenry County also decided to end summer activities on their lakes early because of the algal blooms.

When the algae thrive they can release high concentrations of microcystin, which can make swimmers sick if the water is swallowed or droplets are inhaled from the spray when boating or water skiing.

Illinois hunting and fishing

Pets are particularly at risk, said Teri Holland, environmental protection specialist for the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

Dogs can get sick from lapping up the water, Holland said.

The algae, which looks like pond scum, can also soak into a dog’s fur and become dangerous later when the dog licks itself clean.

The high temperatures and consistent sunlight after an exceptionally mild winter helped the algae multiply. Another big factor has been the drought, Holland said.

“With rain, the lakes are being flushed continually with running water,” she said. “When it’s stagnant, (the algae) are not moving downstream. They can just stay in one place and multiply — they’re happy as a clam. With a lot of sunlight it’s a great environment for them.”

Typically, lakes in Illinois will see some algal blooms late in the summer, when the weather is driest, Holland said.

“It happened earlier this year because it was just so hot in July,” she said.

The algae doesn’t normally lead to fish kills, but it can if the microscopic organisms start sucking up the oxygen in shallow water, said Rob Hilsabeck, fish biologist for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

There’s not a whole lot you can do to combat the algae but wait for the weather to turn, Hilsabeck said.

“The biggest thing is maybe reduce some nutrient loads that help blue-green algae,” he said. “Smaller ponds with large goose populations get those extra nutrients. Ponds that receive lawn fertilizer or septic systems or sewage overflows — there are human issues that stimulate over-fertilization.”

Lake Le-Aqua-Na closed its beach in mid-July after water samples came up with high levels of microcystin.

Park and state officials continued to test the lake through the summer and by mid-August the algae had cleared up enough to open again, site Superintendent Jamie Dowdall said.

The lake is fed by a creek, but because of the drought the water was never replenished and the algae thrived, he said.

“The lake’s down about three and a half feet,” Dowdall said. “It just seemed like the rain skipped over us all summer.”

It’s difficult to tell how many lakes have been affected by the algae, because there are no reporting requirements or state-wide testing, Holland said.

At risk are stagnant shallow lakes and farm ponds.

Swimmers and lake managers will know by sight if there’s an algae problem, Holland said.

“If you see scum formation on water — it can look like paint,” Holland said. “An algal bloom can be very colorful — it looks like ... ‘yuck.’ You wouldn’t think twice if it was there.”

Greg Stanley: 815-987-1369; .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address); @greggstanley


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