“Went out on the boat, cut a hole in the bag, poured it in, and let the current carry it… It has far exceeded our expectations.”
The boat ramp is buzzing again at Lake Whelchel in Gaffney, South Carolina. Anglers hoping to hook a largemouth bass or snag a black crappie are back in action on the water. Along the shore, families can enjoy Fourth of July picnics once again and hikers can hit the 7-mile trail that loops the 200-acre reservoir without that musty, rotten egg smell wafting over from the water.
Just a few short weeks ago it was a very different scene. Blooms of toxic cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) and lyngbya “the size of 18-wheelers” forced the Gaffney Board of Public Works to issue a water advisory and close access to the lake. It wasn’t the first time.
For three years, Lake Whelchel has been plagued by harmful algal blooms during the peak summer season. These algae dominate the aquatic ecosystem, creating a toxic environment where organisms can’t survive. Outbreaks of cyanobacteria can be toxic to people and pets and can drive down property values, hurt livelihoods, and damage local economies. Eliminating them can be extremely difficult.
“We tried multiple approaches, over and over again, but the problem kept recurring,” said Bryant Fleming, the water superintendent of the Gaffney Board of Public Works. “Nothing worked, until now.”
On a warm day in early May, Fleming loaded bags of Lake Guard Blue onto a small boat and took off across the lake. He had been waiting for the water to reach just the right temperature. “We cut a hole in the bag, poured it in, and let the current carry it.”
Unlike other algaecide treatments, products developed by BlueGreen Water Technologies actually float on the surface of the water, traveling with the wind and current to chase down the harmful algae. The biodegradable coating that enables the product to float was developed after years of research and testing.
Fleming motored over to large floating mats of lyngbya, a type of freshwater cyanobacteria that can become toxic, and poured some of the Lake Guard Blue directly on the algae.
“It’s nearly impossible to kill lyngbya,” said Fleming. “We had islands of lyngbya as big as 18-wheelers. Now they’re smaller than the hood of a car, if you clump them all together.”
“We had budgeted $150 thousand to clean up this outbreak. We only spent $40 thousand of that.”
Summer recreation isn’t all that was at stake the day Fleming poured the new product in the lake. The reservoir serves as the primary drinking water source for Cherokee County. And while drinking water had not been affected by the toxic bloom, Fleming knew that harmful algal blooms can cause drinking water to taste and smell bad. He also needed a budget-friendly solution. Like many cities across the country, Gaffney needed to balance its budget and keep costs down.
Fleming had $150 thousand dollars in the budget to deal with such outbreaks. His primary concern: finding a solution that would not only work, but would not harm the aquatic environment. BlueGreen Water Technologies’ products appealed to him for that very reason; they not only surgically target the cyanobacteria, they leave no residue behind and help to restore a water body’s natural habitat. Fleming wouldn’t need to pump gallons of treatment into the lake to get the job done.
In fact, Fleming says he only needed $40 thousand of his $150 thousand budget to clean up the lake.
“The results have been phenomenal, from the clarity of the water to our algae counts. We thought we would have to treat it every two weeks, but that was not the case,” said Fleming. “It’s truly about the health of the reservoir. People throw the term ‘green’ around, but this product truly is.”