MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

August 31, 2013

ODEQ urges precautions in water

Agency issues advisories for lake visitors

As many people finalize plans for their last hurrah of summer, the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality has issued advisories for those who plan to visit area lakes.

Unlike last year, when northeast Oklahoma experienced extreme drought conditions, the water level at most area lakes remains above normal. The influx of fresh water throughout the summer and milder August temperatures also have resulted in fewer blue-green algae outbreaks.

While ODEQ officials encourage Oklahomans to visit and enjoy the state’s streams, rivers and reservoirs, they said water enthusiasts should exercise caution. Their primary concern is the potential presence of certain bacteria, viruses and single-cell microscopic animals that can be found in untreated waterbodies.

These waterborne micro-organisms, some of which occur naturally and others that are washed from other sources into surface waters, can be harmful. Experts say they can cause mild problems such as ear infection, swimmer’s itch, gastrointestinal upset or relatively rare but serious conditions such as eye infections and some forms of meningitis.

“Swimmers should pay close attention to water conditions,” said ODEQ spokeswoman Erin Hatfield. “Also, it is important to pay attention to posted signs and follow the recommendations.”

Some of those signs water enthusiasts might find posted at area lakes provide information about the presence of blue-green algae. The concentrated presence of toxic blue-green algae has been linked in some cases to high toxicity levels that can cause adverse health effects.

Nate Herring, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Tulsa, said visitors to area lakes should heed the state slogan: If it’s green on top, stop. He said water enthusiasts should use common sense when deciding whether to swim in one area or another.

“It seems the blooms are similar to what we saw last year, but the toxicity levels have either been no detection or lower than the threshold,” Herring said. “That could be  because of the fresh water from the rains we have had this summer and lower temperatures — it (blue-green algae outbreaks) is much milder than what we saw in 2011.”

Herring said while the Corps still performs the testing, lake reports for blue-green algae are compiled by the state and published on a website maintained by the Oklahoma Tourism Department. A review of the website shows elevated levels of blue-green algae cell counts have been reported recently at Fort Gibson, Eufaula and Tenkiller lakes with toxicity levels below the threshold of concern set by the World Health Organization.

At Fort Gibson Lake, the most recent tests in July revealed elevated cell counts of blue-green algae at Rocky Point and Taylor Ferry North beaches. Toxicity levels were below the threshold of concern, but visitors to those areas should not let themselves or pets come into contact with areas where the water is discolored.

Testing earlier this month at Lake Eufaula found elevated cell counts at Highway 9 North, Porum Landing, Belle Starr, Elm Point and Gentry Creek areas. Tests found toxicity levels below the threshold, but swimming in the affected areas is discouraged.

Elsewhere at Lake Eufaula, water quality tests at Brooken Cove show blue-green algae posed no concerns for recreational use when the test was performed. Tests conducted in response to an unconfirmed report of a blue-green algae bloom at the dam had not been completed.

The most recent report for Tenkiller Lake issued earlier this month shows blue-green algae cell counts were elevated at the Pine Cove, Strayhorn, Burnt Cabin and Elk Creek areas. Toxicity levels were below the international threshold, but swimming was being discouraged in the affected areas.

No recent reports of blue-green algae had been received for Greenleaf Lake.

Officials say visitors who do swim at area lakes where blue-algae cell counts are elevated should avoid drinking untreated water and rinse off with soap and fresh water after swimming.

Officials with the Department of Public Safety and Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission advise boaters and floaters to wear personal flotation devices when out on the lake. They also caution against the intake of alcoholic beverages while recreating on Oklahoma’s streams, rivers and lakes.

For information about area lakes: www.travelok.com/checkmyoklake.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.

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