Work continues to protect Chippewa Lake from harmful algal blooms

July 21, 2021

Source: Akron Beacon Journal

Chippewa Lake snapped a toxic spell, but how long can it keep algae blooms away?

People stand on the dock as they take in the view July 15 at the Chippewa Lake boat launch in Medina County. The sign cautions boaters about sandbars and lake quality condition. The green flag indicated the lake was open on that day.

Why hasn't Chippewa Lake had any major harmful algae blooms in the last few years?

Although the lake has still had to close after heavy rainfall — which has been plentiful this year — due to E. coli in the water, that’s a fairly regular occurrence for any body of water.

Maybe the lack of blooms comes from the algaecide treatment from an Israeli company in August 2019.

Maybe it’s been the weather, as many bodies of water across Ohio haven’t experienced major blooms in the last few years, either.

Or maybe it’s just been luck, and the lake could have a bloom tomorrow.

Whatever it is, Medina County Park District officials know the root cause of the issue — high nutrient levels in the lake — still hasn’t been treated, and it’s likely only a matter of time before a major bloom happens again.

As the park district hopes to continue its streak bloom-free, it’s working with the state to try to help address the issue and is contemplating the future of Ohio's largest inland glacial lake — and asking for the public’s input.

What is a harmful algae bloom?

According to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, Ohio Department of Natural Resources and Ohio Department of Health, cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) are a kind of photosynthetic bacteria commonly found in Ohio waters. Waters with excess nutrients, especially phosphorus and nitrogen, caused by pollutants can experience rapid growth in the cyanobacteria populations, leading to blooms.

While not all algae blooms are dangerous, harmful algae blooms are caused by a large growth of cyanobacteria that can produce cyanotoxins, which may affect the liver, nervous system or skin.

The blooms require specific conditions, including warm temperatures and sunlight, along with phosphorus and nitrogen, which are commonly found in animal and human waste and in fertilizers. They can enter lakes and streams from agricultural and residential lawn runoff, improperly functioning septic systems and erosion of nutrient-rich soil.

Harmful algae blooms have different colors (green, blue-green, brown, black, white, purple, red and black) and looks (like film, crust or puff balls at the surface; grass clippings or dots in the water; spilled paint, pea soup, foam, wool, streaks or green cottage cheese curd).

According to ODH, the blooms can produce toxic chemicals in the form of neurotoxins (nervous system), hepatotoxins (liver) and dermatoxins (skin). People and pets can be exposed by touching harmful algae blooms, swallowing water with cyanotoxins or breathing in water droplets.

They can cause an array of symptoms, including severe diarrhea and vomiting, liver or kidney toxicity, numbness, rashes and allergic reactions.

Dogs may have more severe symptoms than people, including collapse and sudden death, after drinking contaminated water or licking it from their fur, according to the Medina County Park District.

How long has Chippewa Lake had harmful algae blooms?

According to the park district, the Chippewa Lake watershed comprises about 21.9 square miles (roughly 14,000 acres) that drain into the roughly 330-acre lake. The park district, which was established in 1965 and has an annual budget of about $5.5 million, purchased Chippewa Lake with a Clean Ohio grant in 2007.

Major nutrient sources within the watershed include residential lawn fertilizer, agricultural fertilizer and faulty household septic systems.

Historically, runoff from agricultural fields and other sources would have been filtered through a large series of wetlands — which act like giant sponges that absorb flood water and nutrients before they reach the lake — to the north of the lake.

But those were ditched and channelized about 150 years ago, said park district natural resource manager Jim Spetz. The drainage was to make the land suitable for farming and residential development.

“And so we have 150 years of sediment washing into the lake, with nutrients, specifically phosphorus, bound up and attached to that sediment,” he said.

The park district first received a report of green scum on the lake’s surface in 2014. Spetz said that between 2007 and 2014, there were presumably harmful algae blooms, but testing was not being done at that time.

Spetz collected a sample that showed very low toxin levels. When crews returned the following week, the scum was no longer there, so no additional testing was done in 2014. The park district didn’t receive any calls in 2015, so no additional testing was done in 2015, either.

In early 2016, the park district again received a call about scum and did testing, again discovering very low toxin levels. The park district continued to observe cyanobacteria in the water throughout the season and continued testing samples.

“Since 2016...we had pretty severe blooms every year starting pretty early in the spring and lasting throughout the summer," Spetz said.

Blooms have to be treated proactively, not reactively, and they can't be treated while they’re happening. The park district uses water samples taken from the lake and satellite imagery from the EPA to monitor for blooms.

What are the public health advisories for Chippewa Lake?

Two types of recreational water advisories are issued during blooms, depending on the level of toxins in the water.

A Recreational Public Health Advisory is issued when toxin levels exceed 6 parts per billion for microcystin toxin, a toxin produced by cyanobacteria. Swimming or wading is not recommended for children, pregnant or nursing women, those with certain medical conditions and pets.

When toxin levels exceed 20 parts per billion, an Elevated Recreational Public Health Advisory is issued, warning all people and pets to avoid all contact with the water. Warnings remain in effect until two consecutive tests taken at least one week apart show levels have dropped below those thresholds.

But Spetz said the protocol was updated in summer 2020, and the thresholds were changed. There is now only a single threshold recommended for microcystin at 8 parts per billion, at which danger signs are posted.

Spetz said the summer of 2019 was the last time the park district had to issue any public health advisories related to harmful algae blooms.

The highest levels were recorded in 2016 and 2018. The lake reached its highest recorded level of 58 parts per billion in November 2016.

"It kind of has ebbed and flowed a little bit. We've had some years where the algae blooms were really bad,” said Medina County Park District Director Nate Eppink. “We've been in a good space really the last maybe year and a half.”

The park district did temporarily close the lake July 1 due to flooding. When lake levels surpass the high-water mark, the park district closes it until water samples collected by the Medina County Health Department reveal safe levels of E. coli. The park district reopened the lake July 8, after health department testing showed acceptable E. coli levels, but again temporarily closed the lake due to flooding July 17. The lake will reopen when conditions allow.

How did the BlueGreen Lake Guard Blue algaecide help?

Chippewa Lake became the first lake in the country to be treated successfully with the Lake Guard Blue algaecide in August 2019. The product is from Tel Aviv, Israel-based BlueGreen Water Technologies.

The company said the product, which it said is U.S. EPA-approved, floats on the surface of the water to trigger a natural “self-destruction” mechanism within the toxic cyanobacteria population.

“Our products are designed to float and slow-release the active ingredient enabling surgical precision. They have been tested in thousands of commercial applications and are suitable to any drinking water resource,” said BlueGreen CTO Dr. Moshe Harel in a statement when the cleanup was announced.

BlueGreen offered its algaecide to the park district as an experimental free trial, Eppink said.

The park district also purchased $65,000 worth of the product, but it hasn’t been used and is sitting in storage, given the lack of major blooms since its initial use.

“If you kind of pair that [weather conditions] with the fact that we knocked back the population of cyanobacteria [in the lake at that time], we think that's probably what's given us kind of a reprieve here in 2020 and so far in 2021,” Spetz said. “It's still holding our breath because we anticipate it will eventually come back because we haven't solved the root problem of high nutrients in the lake. We've really just been treating the symptoms of the cyanobacteria that respond to those high nutrient levels.”

Save the Lake Coalition

Created in 2017, the Save the Lake Coalition, a group of local volunteers, is partnering with the park district, Friends of Medina County Parks and the Medina County Soil and Water Conservation District to raise money to help study and manage harmful algae blooms on the lake.

Mark Krosse with the coalition said BlueGreen found Chippewa Lake through the coalition’s website and "realized looking at our website that we were the perfect size freshwater lake for them in the entire United States to do an initial pilot.”

Lisa Krosse with the coalition said although BlueGreen gave “a wonderful Band-Aid" with the algaecide, it doesn’t get at the root cause of high nutrient levels.

"It's not that we want to forsake the BlueGreen solution because that's an excellent short-term solution,” she said. “But we're always looking for longer-term potential solutions.”

H2Ohio project at former Chippewa Lake Amusement Park

A project through Ohio’s H2Ohio initiative aims to address the nutrient issue that feeds the blooms. ODNR is partnering with the park district to help eliminate blooms in the lake and transform the site of the former Chippewa Lake Amusement Park into a wetland and public park.

Chippewa Lake Properties Inc. sold the just under 95-acre site of the former amusement park to the park district in June 2020 for $2.1 million. The park operated from 1878 to 1978.

The state said the H2Ohio project will focus on diverting water from the Chippewa inlet into more than half a mile of newly restored stream channel to reduce nutrients flowing into the lake, including more than 20 acres of restored wetlands.

The project, which spans three sites in Lafayette and Westfield townships, will be funded through H2Ohio and led by the park district. It’s expected to cost $1.52 million and be completed in December 2023.

“That will help to treat the water that's coming in before it reaches the lake, and that will make a huge impact in the long term," Eppink said.

Open house

The park district is hosting a public open house this week to gather input for the future development of its property at Chippewa Lake, including the former amusement park.

The open house will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at The Oaks Lakeside, 5878 Longacre Lane, Chippewa Lake. No registration is required.

A 20-question survey is also available through July 31 at under “What’s New.”

OHM Advisors, the firm the park district hired, will collect the survey data and start to narrow down plans and funding sources, with a final report expected in September or October.

Eppink said the H2Ohio funding gives the park district “a clean slate,” with the district able to remove unnecessary concrete and asphalt and build wetlands to create “much more of a natural park feel before we develop trails and facilities.”

“We've got, with the purchase of the amusement park, an incredible opportunity to really build a new park and a recreation hub from scratch,” Eppink said.

A look at conditions, recreation limits affecting some other local waters

Springfield Lake: Springfield Township said algae testing for Springfield Lake in Springfield and Lakemore detected algae toxins at unsafe levels. Reports from April and June show microcystin levels greater than 25 parts per billion. Residents and visitors are advised to avoid all contact with Springfield Lake water. The public health advisory will be in effect until algae toxins return to safe levels.

Nimisila Reservoir Metro Park: As of June 8, water at Nimisila Reservoir Metro Park in Green tested positive for the presence of blue-green algae. Fishing and boating are permitted, but precautions should be taken to avoid ingestion of or contact with lake water by humans or pets.

Wyoga Lake: According to the Ohio Department of Health’s Ohio’s Beach Water Quality and Advisories system, there’s an ongoing contamination advisory in place, first issued July 14, due to high bacteria levels. Summit County Public Health is monitoring the lake shared by Stow and Cuyahoga Falls, with E. coli detected at a high level on July 14.

Summit Lake: An assessment showed water quality has improved over the last few decades in this lake south of downtown Akron. Canoeing and kayaking are acceptable with life jackets. Swimming and wading aren’t recommended, but skin contact with the water and the occasional tipping and falling into the water doesn't pose a health concern.

Summit Lake Nature Center:New nature center latest enhancement to Akron's Summit Lake

Cuyahoga River: The National Park Service recommends using caution when contacting the river water, as it receives discharges of stormwater, combined-sewer overflows and incompletely disinfected wastewater from urban areas upstream of Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The park discourages swimming, but kayaking and canoeing are acceptable activities. E. coli is also a concern after heavy rain; check the USGS Great Lakes Nowcast system for water quality conditions.

Munroe Falls and Silver Creek metro park swim lakes: Swimming is suspended this summer due to ongoing staffing challenges exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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