Toxin Levels Low

ST. MARYS —  The state released the results on Thursday of tests taken earlier this week at  Grand Lake St. Marys, with the numbers coming in at the lowest so far.

"Ecstacy," Grand Lake St. Marys Restoration Commission Manager Milt Miller said of his first reaction to hearing the results. "Like most lakes or any vacation resort type of area, Memorial Day kicks off the season, and so these numbers were extremely welcomed news — to tell people that our lake is very much open, to welcome them back."

The results of Tuesday's Ohio Department of Natural Resource's testing for microcystin around the lake came back as 10.7 parts at the Celina Water Treatment Plant, followed by 10.9 at the East Beach of Grand Lake St. Marys State Park, 11.6 at the West Beach of Grand Lake St. Marys State Park, 11.9 at the campers' beach at Grand Lake St. Marys State Park and 38.6 at Windy Point at Grand Lake St. Marys State Park.

Recent tests for microcystin around the lake have ranged from 24 to 72 ppb.

"The thing you really have to keep in perspective, two years ago when the lake went south, the World Health Organization set the standard at 20, and it was an all-or-nothing situation," Miller said. "And then science has caught up to the problem and Ohio has had a year to look at it and scientists have studied the situation, and that's when scientists came up with the 6 parts per."

He noted the reason the state went to a lower amount than the World Health Organization, was that because recreational users of the lake are families.

"So you're going to have babies, you're going to have the elderly, you're going to have people maybe with some health problems, so they wanted to drive it down to err on the side of caution," Miller said. "Clearly, we're very biased toward the lake. If you look at the 20 parts per, we're well, well, well under the benchmark of a year ago. "

The results, he said, are positive for an opening weekend.

"And so we're just really, really enthused for a good summer and hope a lot of people come back," he said. "Fishing has been phenomenal. The crappie fishermen are just knocking 'em dead. The bass tournaments have been very successful."

For last weekend's bass tournament, Miller noted, it took 15.7 pounds to win it, and the big bass was more than 5 pounds.

"They reported to us they were very, very healthy and they looked good," he added. "So the fishing's there, the boating's there, we're pretty enthused."

Memorial Day, he noted, is important for any tourism attraction — the first break of the news of the algae came right before Memorial Day in 2009.

"Not to over-dramatize it, but it kind of sets the whole mood for the summer," Miller said. "When they came out in  '09, it was devastating for us ... This is such welcomed news, and it's also such rewarding news. I think it's demonstrative of our efforts paying off, at least we'd like to think it is."

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources  will be testing the lake every week at the locations, through what Miller described as "grab samples."

"They actually go to these locations and take a scoop of water out and take it back to the labs," he said.

Miller noted the full-lake alum application may have had something to do with the lower readings, but it hasn't been confirmed.

"The way we will know that the alum played a part in this would be through a lower phosphorus reading," he said. "That's what alum does — it strips the water column of the phosphorus, the phosphorus feeds the algae. We've taken the samples, but the results aren't back. If the phosphorus numbers are down, then we can definitely say that these low readings were helped by the alum."

Miller noted the higher-than-usual-headline-making samples that were taken back in March.

"Quite frankly, we knew it was pre-alum, and at that time of the year, the lake is relatively empty of any participants. Even boaters aren't typically out in March, so we cared but we didn't care," he said. "To us, this is the more important reading than that one."

Despite the lower results, there will still be signs along the banks of Grand Lake St. Marys — as well as along the banks of other Ohio lakes.

"There's two signs that go up now," Miller said. "One is orange, one is red. The orange one will be up anytime the readings are above six. The red one goes up when there is a "no-contact advisory," meaning don't touch it, don't get sprayed by it, don't do anything by it. We're going to have an orange sign, but it's no big deal, I mean — they can pretty much do anything but drink it."

He noted lake officials will never encourage contact with the lake if it's deadly.

"We're very passionate about our lake, but we're never going to promote it to the point that we cause people's illnesses," Miller said. "If we thought that it could be injurious to somebody, we'd back off and not be so enthused."

Miller noted there hasn't been any report of scum so far this season except for the brown color, which is attributed to a brown algae — something Miller said is considered good.

"We've been told brown algae is good algae," he said, noting they are having the brown algae analyzed just in case. "As a generalization, as the scientists have told us, browns are good, greens are bad."

He added every lake has some sort of algae in it.

"Call in your ag extension office, they'll send it to Columbus, they'll test it for you," Miller said. "It's not automatically something that's a threat."