This is my second attempt at starting a blog. I hope this blog will serve as an opportunity for my readers to get to know me a little better and for me to serve as a generator of discussion and thought. As I enter my last semester at Grace College, I will probably write several posts on my senior research project and transitioning from the “Grace Bubble” to the real world.
My senior research project will cover factors which determine water quality testing in my home county. When I was a freshman, I had to write some articles about water quality in the county. One thing I uncovered was a lack of testing for harmful toxins from blue-green algae in our lakes. In the past couple of years, these tests have become more important. Here is the original article I wrote in April of 2009 (which was never published):
Healthy Lakes Make Healthy People
By Ashlea Reinsch
During the summer, ducks and geese swarm to Kosciusko County’s beaches, both public and private. The overabundance of fowl can cause health problems for humans due to increased levels of E. Coli bacteria in water which birds bring.
Increased bacteria levels can close down beaches, such as when Center and Pike Lakes were closed for a few days last summer. Each week during the summer, the Kosciusko County Health Department sends out an employee, usually an intern from Grace College, to monitor the bacteria levels of public beaches. Graham Blatz, a senior at Grace College, monitored the water during the Summer of 2008 and will do so again this summer.
Closed beaches discourage both area residents and visiting tourists. Blue-green algae pose a new threat to beach-goers. These common aquatic organisms, which have colors other than blue and green, can produce toxins. More than 50 species of blue-green algae exist, but only a third of them produce toxins. According to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management Web site, in.gov/idem/algae, the Cyanophyta group is most common in Indiana and grows between May and October. Contact with toxic algae can result in stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, headache, fever, muscle weakness, difficulty breathing, and even death.
According to Lyn Crighton, Director of Operations for the Tippecanoe Watershed Foundation, Kosciusko County does not test for the toxins, even though the algae which produce them are present in the lakes. “I’m concerned about it [the toxins] because I know the lakes have the algae but don’t know if they have the toxins,” she claimed.
No state agency has authority over testing for the toxins. “It’s a relatively new concern that we’re still learning about,” said Eileen Boekestein, Coordinator of the Kosciusko Lakes and Streams program at Grace College. “Testing is also expensive, as much as $1,000 per toxin analysis sample.” However, people can still take a few steps to control the growth of algae, which will prevent the toxins from developing.
According to Crighton, local residents can use phosphorous-free or no fertilizer, keep soil erosion down, avoid disposing of grass clippings in water, and have their septic tanks inspected.
“Enjoying the [aquatic] resources we have is not only good for us; it’s also good for the environment,” Crighton claims.
Bob Weaver, Administrator of the Kosciusko County Health Department, claims water recreation activities are beneficial to people’s physical and mental health. “The more people who have access to a lake, the more people become attached to it and create a healthier lake,” he said.
Weaver explained what happened in the case of Silver Lake, a lake slightly smaller than Center Lake. In years past, sewers from the town dumped into the lake, making it unsuitable for swimmers and boaters.
“The people did not seem to care too much because they did not feel as attached to the lake,” Weaver claimed. Since then, the Silver Lake Conservation Association has cleaned up the lake. Weaver believes a lack of recreational activities prevents people from becoming extremely concerned about the health of their lakes.
However, when a large lake has public access for a variety of waterside fun, people will flock to it during the summer months, Weaver says. People will also become more involved in keeping the lake healthy. “The health of one benefits the other,” Weaver claims.
More information about local water quality efforts will be available to the public during the Northern Indiana Lakes Festival on Saturday, June 27, 2009. Activity booths, marine dealers, and entertainment booths will be set up in Central Park on Canal Street in Warsaw, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, log onto northernindianalakesfestival.org or contact Eileen Boekestein at 574-372-5100 ext. 6446. For more information about blue-green algae, visit in.gov/idem/algae/.
*Disclaimer: due to the age of this article, some of the polices have changed. Some people have relocated or changed jobs.