The News Guard
July 8, 2009
An alert about potentially toxic cyanobacteria on Devils Lake in the run up to the Fourth of July prompted criticism from some lakefront property owners at the’ July 2 Devils Lake Water Improvement District meeting.
Lake Manager Paul Robertson posted yellow alert signs July 1 after noticing an increase in green slime on the lake surface particularly at Regatta Grounds and East Devils Lake State Park.
Similar cyanobacteria blooms last summer and fall produced levels of liver toxin that exceeded state and World Health Organization limits for recreational water use.
Robertson said the yellow alert signs, which warn lake users to stay clear of scummy water, were posted as a precaution in accordance with the district’s cyano-watch program.
Robertson also gave radio interviews in which he warned that water skiers could be at heightened risk of exposure to any toxins produced by the bloom if they breath in vapor when skiing through scummy water.
Lake resident Bud Depweg said Robertson is scaring people away from the lake, “I think that’s wrong,” he said, both businesswise, which doesn’t mean anything, but because so far, in my 34 years [as a lakefront property owner,] I have yet to see anyone get sick because of skiing through this green slime that’s all over the lake.”
Lake resident Larry Brown said Robertson should not be allowed to speak on behalf of the district’s board of directors without authorization.
Board Vice-chair Jack Strayer said Robertson has discretion to speak to the media when he feels it is appropriate.
Robertson said informing the public about potential risks is a key part of the cyano-watch program.
“What’s the point in developing a program if you’re not going to tell people about it?” he said.
The district is scheduled to run toxicity tests on the bloom Thursday, July 9.
Brown also called for the district to change its water sampling methods, saying samples should be taken at set times and at set locations in the middle of the lake, with the collection and analysis done by outside companies.
Speaking before the meeting, Robertson defended the district’s current policy of “incident-based” sampling, which involves testing water quality whenever a bloom occurs.
He said cyanobacteria scum tends to accumulate around the edges of the lake, where children and dogs, who would be more vulnerable to any toxins, are most likely to be at play.
“You really put yourself at risk of underestimating what the levels might be if you only rely on the mid-lake stuff,” he said.
After the meeting, Robertson said the district is working on the logistics of taking mid-lake samples in addition to shoreline samples.
Determining the severity of the lake’s cyanobacteria problem will help decide whether the district will pursue a whole lake circulation project, such as the installation of 20 SolarBee water agitators on the lake surface, in an attempt to deny the bacteria the calm water they need to bloom.
A recent surge of opposition to the SolarBee idea convinced the board to shelve any further action until questions about the cyanobacteria risk and whether the modules have any history of causing boating accidents.
Lake resident Mitchell Moore urged the board to go a step further and pronounce the SolarBee concept dead and take advantage of the public’s newfound interest in the district to move forward on other projects that have widespread support.
Brown said the board and Robinson should focus on arranging events such as water skiing displays, fishing derbies and kayak races to build camaraderie among lakefront property owners.