County Algae Bloom Issues Everywhere. Solutions, Too.

Out of curiosity, mostly, I decided to start searching on counties by-state, to see which were contending with algae bloom issues in lakes. After several searches, I found that none were free of problems. All cited a combination of industrial, residential, and agricultural runoff as the contributors to the problem.

No surprise there.

But, alas, there are always solutions. Case in point: Lake Delavan in the southwest corner of Walworth County, WI.

Dredging, fish killing to remove Carp, large-scale landscaping, tributary protection, private and public funding, a network of committed area residents and municipalities sworn to maintain responsible land-use practices, and “watch dog” measures to help ensure compliance, have been applied over three decades to restore to life a lake that was once considered an area blight.

True, countless hours of effort, planning, and millions of dollars have been invested in the restoration. It has been a huge undertaking, to say the least.

Lake Delavan Aerial View
Lake Delavan Aerial View

But what a return.

It is estimated that over 800 jobs are created annually as a result of the cleanup. Property values on and around the lake have risen a remarkable $99 million, and the local economic contribution is projected at $77 million.

Clean water is an asset that cannot be diminished by any measure, in any place. Of this, Lake Delavan is surely an example.



Tainter Lake, WI Algae Blooms Identified In National Info Resources

Sitting in Port Washington, WI, overlooking the port which empties into a beautiful blue Lake Michigan, the suggestion of an appearance of algae blooms gains little interest. Lake Michigan is deep and cold. Port Washington provides an adequate sewage system, and the relatively small amount of nearby farms only contributes what appears to be a manageable level of damaging nutrients.

Not so with 1600-acre, 37-foot deep, Tainter Lake, north of college town Menomonee, WI.

In an outstanding report by the National Wildlife Foundation (NWF), Tainter’s plight is well-documented. And is held up as an example of what, increasingly, is becoming a not-so-unusual occurrence across not just the Great Lakes Regi

Tainter Lake Algae Bloom
Tainter Lake Algae Bloom

on and the area’s inland lakes, but throughout the USA.

The NWF identifies three issues that must be addressed, to better combat America’s algae bloom crisis:

1. No federal agency currently tracks lake closures or health warnings nationally.
2. Few economic studies have assessed the national cost of freshwater HABs.
3. Not all states monitor or report the presence of algae-related toxins in freshwaters.

ToxicAlgaeNews, a superb online publication provided by non-profit publisher Resource Media, has stepped up to help cover bloom outbreaks by-state.

So far, the improved research and tracking has not helped Tainter Lake. But with progress being made, perhaps the time will come.


Lake Superior – Optimal Conditions For Low Algae Levels

I have been told that, should one venture somewhat off-shore of Lake Superior — let’s say a mile or two — it would be possible to dip one’s cup into the water, and freely drink from the lake. I have not tried it, and would not encourage the practice, but I believe it.

I am not alone. Naturally Superior has this to say on the subject: Lake Superior is the cleanest of the Great Lakes,and many people drink the water regularly (even in their homes). On a trip, the decision is yours. For your safety we bring a high quality water filter or boil our water.

There may be several reasons to explain Lake Superior’s pristine waters, and veritable absence of algae blooms but, according to Robert Sterner, a Minnesota Sea Grant researcher and Limnologist, there are three primary factors:

Lake Superior Cliff
Lake Superior Cliff
  • One variable is latitude. A more northern latitude means a shorter growing season and less carbon input into the lake’s system from plants like algae.
  • Another variable is geology. Granitic-rock covered by pine forests doesn’t contribute much phosphorus to the lake.
  • The third thing Sterner emphasized is the lake’s homogeneity. “It’s mostly deep, it’s mostly cold and it’s mostly offshore,” Sterner said. “It lacks extensive nearshore mucky bays.”

And there you have it. If you haven’t visited Lake Superior, the trip is worth it. It is a global treasure that ideally benefits from what many of us would consider less-than-ideal weather conditions.

Elkhart & Fox – Two Lakes, Too Different

I was visiting Elkhart Lake, WI recently, with the notion that this may be a sensible re-location spot for Clean Water Warrior. There is no doubt, the lake and the community are in many respects idyllic. A too-small, yet quaint village, abutting a beautiful world-class lake — Elkhart Lake is truly a destination for freshwater fans. And, as it turns out, race fans. The community’s Road America venue brings in over 100,000 people every racing weekend throughout the summer months. Not bad for a town with a population of 967.

Elkhart Lake, WI
Elkhart Lake, WI

Elkhart Lake has some terrific tourist history, too, dating back to the days of Al Capone. But its greatest asset may be its spring-fed water source, its incredible depth of nearly 120 feet, and the absence of farming or industry on its shores. Private residences, most valued at over $1,000,000, with responsible, updated septic systems surround the lake. This almost ensures that Elkhart Lake will remain clean and algae free for years to come.

Contrast that with poor Fox Lake, in Fox Lake WI — a neighbor less than 60 miles to the Southwest. Fed by creeks that empty into it after meandering through industrial parks and farms, and possessing a depth of no more than 20 feet, Fox Lake is almost doomed to its status as one of Wisconsin’s most at-risk lakes. What can be done to improve Fox Lake’s lot? Start with the farms. Wherever a 75-foot grass buffer does not exist between cropped land and creeks, create that space. Extend dramatically the distance between farms, and the lake itself. And eliminate any yard pesticide usage by lake dwellers.

Fox Lake at Peak Algae
Fox Lake at Peak Algae

Are these suggestions a solution all by themselves? No. Some conditions will simply always work against Fox Lake. But wherever implemented, they cannot hurt.