Algae Hotspots Explained

25 Jul

After receiving reports of algae appearing in Blue Lake spots unseen in ages, Blue Lake Free Press investigated the phenomena.   BLFP consulted with a three scientists (an oceanographer, a chemical engineer and an ecologist); a nature buff / water-quality surveyor and a lake-loving high school student; and then conducted an independent field examination of the Blue Lake Metropolitan Area.

First, let’s review the natural attributes of algae.  Alga is a non-flowering plant.  It is green because it contains chlorophyl but does not have stems, roots or leaves.  Alga, however, may contain filaments.  In still waters, algae can assume nice, blobby formations which may break apart in currents.  A lot of algae are single-celled forms which lack preference to water flow intensity.  Certain species of algae like warmer waters while other prefer colder waters.

Eurasian Milfoil

Eurasian Milfoil

Now say you see a slimy leafy-green plant growing in the water near your shoreline… that is not alga.  If the plant has coils of submerged leaves which look like the illustration on the left, it is most likely the aggressive, easily pollinated and highly invasive Eurasian milfoil. In such case, contact your local lake representative immediately.  So far, unlike other bodies of water in Oneida County, Eurasian milfoil has not been spotted in Blue Lake.

The Perfect Algae Storm

Algae prosper with a hearty combination of nutrients and sunlight.  Does a situation then exist on Blue Lake where the waters are more algae-friendly than usual?  Let’s examine each element and then assess Blue Lake’s propensity for promoting them.

  • Nutrients.  A plant’s gotta eat and alga loves nitrogen and phosphorous.  A certain amount of runoff from civilization naturally enters lakes, which is why poisonous fertilizers on nearby lawns are unsavory to water health.  Runoff in the Blue Lake Metropolitan Area includes nutrient-rich seepage from septic systems.  As a greater number of people settle in the BLMA, more delicious septic seepage flows into lakes and more algae bloom.  A broken or ruptured septic system can also cause a similar, if not a more intense, effect.  Also consider that we’re in at least year five of an extended drought. So (for example’s sake only) if “normal” fluids entering Blue Lake consist of 4% septic runoff and 6% storm water, then “drought” fluids entering Blue Lake might consist of 8% septic runoff and 2% storm water.   That is, a higher concentration of septic runoff is entering the lake, creating a more appetizing and more opportune feasting buffet for the algae.
  • Sunlight.  In alga, sunlight synthesizes food stuffs from water and carbon dioxide which, in turn, makes it grow.  With shorelines during droughts receding away from leafy overhangs, a greater amount of sunlight could be shining on newly shallow areas already harboring ideal elements for an algae outbreak, indeed creating a hefty algae cocktail.
  • Other factors.  Other potential, and most likely minute, factors in assessing causes of algae blooms include proneness for warmer, stiller waters.  Happy lakes enjoy a cyclical influx and outflow of water to keep things moving and grooving and not foul and stagnant.  Water comes into Blue Lake, say, through precipitation and underground springs, and goes out, say, from a swampy drainage area on Hacker Drive.  However, during today’s drought, water is not flowing out of the lake, making Blue Lake potentially more sluggish than usual.   Algae, which might have been previously present in Blue Lake, may stick around longer, joining their filaments in great, highly-visible blobs.   Maybe the particular species of algae now thriving in Blue Lake likes warmer waters.  Because of low lake levels, waters in certain areas could logically now be warmer than they once were, again, promoting an algae bloom.

Curbing Algae Blooms

Preventing algae blooms through conscientious zoning and living (including eliminating fertilizer use and maintaining septic systems) is much easier than curbing algae which are already thriving.  Scooping algae out of an offending area is a losing battle, an age-old clash of man vs. nature.  So as long as the great, green, slippery globs exist, best to strap on the aqua sox and watch your step!

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