Cyanobacteria are known as blue-green algae because of their distinct color and are closely related to bacteria and photosynthesize like algae, cyan means "blue-green." When cyanobacteria blooms begin to die and disintegrate they create a toxin which is called microcystin. And that was what made Senator Inhofe sick that summer.
GRDA acted fast with protective action and closed the lake to the public. The lake was quiet that 4th of July weekend. Businesses around the lake complained, perhaps went ballistic would better describe their reaction. They and other tainted lake communities around the state that hot summer complained, lobbied and got results. The Oklahoma legislature passed SB259 and Governor Mary Fallin signed it into law a few months later just before the next summer.
Under the new law, officials from the state Department of Health and the Department of Environmental Quality are no longer responsible for issuing algae advisories. That responsibility was given to the Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation, the same agency that promotes the use of state lakes and rivers. The new law raised the stakes for public health by changing action levels.
This week's notice was given because this is serious. Tests have been done and are being repeated and the numbers are HIGH indicating this is toxic by standards set by the World Health Organization. Relative Probability of Acute Health Effects are high at this time with the numbers they are finding in the samples and the response is to begin awareness level advisory while other states issue advisories and closures when there is even a visual sighting of the green masses in the water, to assure the safety of those who might have been in it. Many of the states do what Oklahoma did 5 years ago and begin actively closing access to the water when the levels are 5 times LESS than we are reacting now.
While most blue-green algae blooms do not produce toxins, it is not possible to determine the presence of toxins without testing. Thus, all blooms should be considered potentially toxic. Very small exposures, such as a few mouthfuls of algae-contaminated water, may result in fatal poisoning.
Let's talk dirty. Perhaps slimy would be more descriptive if you were to put your hands in that green stuff in the lake and touch it. Don't do it. Don't take your shoes off and go walking in it, make sure no one splashes you, or drives a boat through it to create waves to bring more ashore or spray from the rush through the water. Your dog and livestock should not enter or drink suspect water either.
Symptoms can take anywhere from hours to days to appear in people or animals but will normally show up within a week after initial exposure. While there is no specific treatment for microcystin poisoning.
All this to say, it is barely summer. No real hot weather has hit, but we already have blue green algae in parts of Grand Lake. Other lakes are bound to follow.
If you follow the evidence, the reasons are obvious. We are feeding it with more nutrients such as phosphorus or nitrogen, naturally it will grow with some warm days and sunshine.
The Department of Tourism wants people to come visit, but we should want to protect our water so our lakes, rivers and streams will be swimable, fishable and drinkable for anyone to enjoy.
I was proud GRDA representatives are speaking up about the quality of the water in Grand Lake and glad DEQ is continuing to accept and encourage people to call either agency for more information or to report other sightings of algae. Those numbers are: DEQ at 800-522-0206 or GRDA at 918-256-0911. It would be especially helpful for Health officials like Dr. Bob Lynch at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center be allowed to speak and advise.
As Waterkeepers we advocate for our waterbodies. Tar Creek is going to get better, EPA has a plan and with funding Superfund will get it cleaned up. Watch for permit requests and question them. We do not want it to get loaded and downgraded before it recovers from what must seem like really bad karma. Those permits are really just papers giving permission to pollute.
Speaking of karma and thinking Grand Lake o' the Cherokees, as long as we continue to feed and fill it with nutrients blue green algae will continue to appear. All of us in her watershed must consider what we do since it can impact her. Use fertilizer on your yard? Own crop land? Eat chicken? Play golf? Forgotten to have your septic tank pumped out? and even replaced at that lake house? Now remember all the people upstream must begin being mindful too. Earl Hatley, the Grand Riverkeeper recently told a man in Leadville, Colorado, a contaminated mining sister-site. "Each of us impact people we will never meet," or in other words, we all either live upstream OR downstream.
Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim