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Be smart and respect toxic algae in lakes

Water Atlas editor's note: "Toxic algae" and cyanobacteria are not synonymous. Not all cyanobacteria is toxic, and not all harmful algae is cyanobacteria. Learn more about harmful bacteria »

Hey, let's make a green-slime smoothie! Or not.

By the middle of the summer in Lake County, nasty, sometimes smelly, blue-green algae is clinging to the banks of many of the county's 1,000 named lakes. The stuff is even more prevalent in times of little rain and low water — like now. Yum, yum.

Fifteen years ago, scientists and health officials were measuring toxic algae, investigating which types were most dangerous and charting where they were located. Sometimes they issued alerts about particularly nasty blooms. The health department even got a $3 million federal grant to track algae victims and study them.

Now? Two of the three government agencies that used to monitor poisonous algae in recreational lakes have stopped measuring it. The one that still samples water doesn't report the results to the health department. The assistant health officer for the Florida Department of Health in Lake County returned a phone call only to say that he couldn't "speak intelligently" on the topic.

Officialdom may not care, but folks, toxic algae is out there, and it's not good for you — it's even known to be fatal. Like alligators, harmful algae called cyanobacteria in Florida lakes deserve respect and avoidance.

In the late 1990s and the early 2000s, recreational bodies of water in this county were seriously eutrophic. The reason is that people and businesses kept dumping a lot of nitrogen and phosphorus — that's fertilizer — into the big lakes. Discharges from the muck farms around Lake Apopka were main source of the overloaded nutrients, which in turn caused algae, which in turn sucked the oxygen out of the water, killing fish and other good things that live in it.

Water from Lake Apopka flowing north through the Beauclair canal between Astatula and Lake Jem, polluted the Harris chain of lakes to the north, including lakes Beauclair, Dora, Eustis, Harris and Griffin.

However, shutting down muck farms and subsequent restoration projects apparently have made a dent. Biologists at the St. Johns River Water Management District say that for the first time since 1999 the amount of algae-causing fertilizer and total algae in lakes Griffin, Beauclair and Dora have dropped significantly.

They're down in other lakes, too, except lakes Yale and Weir, where water quality has deteriorated.