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Although still under KDHE warning, city seeing improvements on Vets Lake algae
new deh vets lake
The City of Great Bend is making strides in reducing the toxic blue-green algae that has long plagued Veterans Memorial Lake. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune

 TOPEKA – Veterans Memorial Lake in Great Bend was one of three lakes in Kansas under a warning for toxic blue-green algae, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported Thursday afternoon.

However, Great Bend Public Lands Director Scott Keeler said Vets is looking much better. “We are on the right path. We’ve made definite improvements.”

Although the levels of phosphorus in the lake remain higher than they should be, they have decreased, Keeler said. It is the phosphorus that feeds the algae.

The decline is due to several factors, Keeler said. Among them are the recent rains that have raised the water level three to four feet and nearly doubled the surface area of the lake.

Also was the first 5,600-gallon dose of aluminum sulfate, or alum, that was introduced into the lake in April via oxygen diffusers. The non-toxic alum bonds with the phosphorus and algae causing them to settle to the bottom, allowing nature to take its course.

That made a big dent, Keeler said. Now, a second dose is planned for late next week.

Troubles with algae in Vets date back to 2010. Over the years, the algae has tainted the water green and has even led the KDHE to issue warnings about coming in contact with it.

A year ago, the city contracted with consulting firm, CH2M Hill, of Englewood, Colo., to develop a multi-step plan to remediate the problem. The use of alum was one recommendation from the consultants.

Among the steps were public education, reducing the introduction of phosphorus, minimizing the goose population and a mapping of the lake floor contours. These have all been done or are on-going.

A biological survey of life in the lake was also planned. However, a massive fish kill last summer rendered this step obsolete.

The kill allowed the city to turn off the oxygen diffusers which were installed to help infuse oxygen into the water for the fish. This made it easier to conduct surveys of the lake and easier to manage the goose issue.

Monitoring the situation

The KDHE samples publicly accessible bodies of water for cyanobacteria, commonly called blue-green algae, when the agency is alerted to a potential algae bloom in Kansas lakes. KDHE, in cooperation with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism and other lake managers where appropriate, responds by informing the public of harmful conditions.

Lakes under a Warning are not closed. Marinas, lakeside businesses and park camping facilities are open for business.

If swim beaches or lakes are closed, it will be specifically noted. Drinking water and showers at parks are safe and not affected by algae blooms. Boating and fishing are safe on lakes under a Warning, but contact with the water should be avoided. 

It is safe to eat fish caught during a harmful blue-green algae outbreak, as long as the fish is rinsed with clean water; consume only the fillet portion and discard all other parts. Hands should also be washed with clean water after handling fish taken from an affected lake.

KDHE and KDWPT urge pet owners to be particularly mindful of the presence of blue-green algae. Pets that swim in or drink water affected by a harmful algal bloom or eat dried algae along the shore may become seriously ill or die.

The other two lakes are Chisholm Creek Park Lake, Sedgwick County, and Marion Reservoir (not Marion County Lake), Marion County.