Four Kentucky lakes are now affected by harmful algal blooms.
The four lakes—Taylorsville, Barren, Rough River and Nolin—make up half of the lakes the Louisville District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages in Kentucky. High levels of blue-green algae were first found in Taylorsville Lake last month.
This algae is a type of cyanobacteria that produces toxins. It can cause nose and skin irritation, as well as other illnesses in humans and animals. This summer marks the first time the Army Corps of Engineers has tested all the lakes for the algae; it tested Taylorsville Lake last summer. Because of the lack of data, Corps biologist Jade Young said it’s hard to say whether this is a new problem.
“We can’t say at this time that we haven’t had harmful algal blooms before; this is just an emerging issue that the Corps as well other agencies are becoming aware of in the past couple of years,” she said. “So we’re learning how to deal with this and adequately advise the public of their risk.”
When water bodies have high levels of cyanobacteria, it can make people sick. The lakes aren’t closed to recreational activities, but people are advised to not drink untreated lake water and to stay away from any visible algae. After swimming or boating, people should wash with warm soapy water. Fishermen should remove the skin and organs of fish before cooking.
But those are partial remedies for a bigger problem. These harmful algae blooms are caused by excess nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus, which come from anywhere from fertilized lawns, farms and golf courses to discharges from sewage treatment plants. Clark Dorman says this makes treating algae blooms more difficult.
“Unfortunately, it’s not like there’s just one particular entity that’s responsible,” he said. “It’s usually a shared responsibility amongst a variety of land uses and activities.”
Dorman manages Kentucky’s Water Quality Branch. He said right now, the Army Corps is the only entity testing for cyanobacteria in Kentucky—and that’s only in the lakes over which the Corps has jurisdiction. The Kentucky Division of Water will test lakes if there are complaints, fish kills, or evidence that water has made people sick.
“If you equate it to someone going to the doctor and having a patient, we’ve got a patient that’s exhibiting some symptoms of illness but we’re not in any kind of a catastrophic situation,” Dorman said. “So we’re trying to address these issues early before they become significant.”
But the long-term solution is to craft a pollution diet—or total maximum daily load (TMDL)—for waterways, like the state and federal governments are doing for Floyds Fork. This would look at all the sources contributing nutrient pollution to the lakes, and employ best management practices to reduce the lake’s pollution load. Dorman says the division doesn’t have enough resources to craft TMDLs for all the affected lakes right now, but they’ll continue to keep an eye on the data. Algae blooms usually disappear in the fall.