ST. MARYS – Community leaders are raising money to help clean up pollution in Ohio’s largest inland lake, which officials and activists say has been hurt by toxic algae caused by contaminants such as fertilizer and manure from nearby farms.
Residents and community supporters around the Grand Lake St. Marys, which sits between Toledo and Dayton, said the water quality problems have contributed to a drop in visitors, the closings of two marinas and a loss in value of homes along the 13,500-acre lake.
“It’s too important not to happen,” said Milt Miller, fundraising chairman of the Grand Lake St. Marys Restoration Commission. “There is no other asset in this area that has the ability to touch every aspect of our economy and community. We cannot let this lake continue to go on with the reputation it has.”
The group plans to install aerators and sediment collectors to improve water quality and to expand the program if successful.
“We wish there was one silver bullet that we could buy that would fix everything. There is not,” said Brian Miller, commission chairman and assistant manager at Grand Lake St. Marys State Park. “It’s like a jigsaw puzzle – there are many different pieces. We feel this is one piece of the puzzle.”
The group has collected $350,000 toward a $500,000 goal, Milt Miller said Thursday.
Ohio officials last spring posted advisories warning that toxic algae posed a health risk for swimmers and boaters. The group said too much sediment and nutrients in the lake feed blue-green algae, which leads to the toxins.
State officials lifted water advisories this week, but warnings could return with warmer temperatures. The toxin, microcystin, can lead to skin rashes, sore throat, congestion or digestive problems, and can kill small animals.
“With the recreational season gearing up, we will start looking at the beaches again,” said Dina Pierce, spokeswoman for the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. “If the levels go back up, we will be putting the signs back up.” The state Department of Natural Resources will test water samples every other week starting May 17.
Milt Miller said the advisories caused buyers to cancel plans to purchase vacation or retirement homes along the lake and other economic woes.
“We had people that normally rent boat space on the lake that aren’t fulfilling those. … Gas sales are down, hotels are off 20 percent,” he said. “It was just absolutely devastating.”