Thursday, November 7th, 2019

Lake cleanup attracts attention

Cincinnati students study project

By Sydney Albert

Elizabeth Carruthers and Lauren Reed of Bethany Schools walk the wetlands with t. . .

ST. MARYS - With algal blooms gaining prominence nationally, people are noticing the cleanup efforts around Grand Lake.
While many people feared the excessive rains and flooding earlier this year would set back cleanup efforts, the toxin levels have continued on an overall downward trend. This year's microcystin toxins produced by blue-green algae, were at their lowest levels in Grand Lake in the past seven years, according to information from Dr. Stephen Jacquemin of Wright State University-Lake Campus.
The progress gained the attention of a Wall Street Journal reporter, who wrote an article highlighting the lake's road to recovery. That national attention stirred the curiosity of people closer to home.
Michelle Mellea, a science teacher at Bethany Schools in the Cincinnati area, this week brought 22 of her seventh-graders on a two-day field trip to Grand Lake. Students focused on how the lake's algae problem impacts the area and efforts to improve water quality.
Mellea said her students had been studying nature's cycles, including the roles of phosphorus and nitrogen in algal bloom development. As part of their unit, students held a town hall where they simulated the scenario of a community gripped by an algal crisis. Some students served as elected officials, some were residents, and others were business owners. They all conducted research to better understand how those people would be impacted by an algal bloom.
After reading the Wall Street Journal article, though, Mellea realized her students could learn firsthand about real efforts to combat algal blooms.
The students spent Wednesday traveling around the Grand Lake area hearing from local environmental experts, business owners and public officials.
Donna Grube, Greater Grand Lake Visitors Bureau executive director, discussed algae's effect on local tourism. Jacquemin met them at the Lake Campus to discuss the factors shaping water quality and algal blooms. He also touched on the vital role local wetlands and treatment trains have had in reducing nutrient runoff, a food source for algae.
After visiting the Coldwater Creek treatment train, the group ate lunch at Bella's Italian Grille, where owner Julie Fleck spoke about how the restaurant industry had been impacted by the drop in tourism after the severe algal blooms.
At the close of their trip, the group walked along the canal in St. Marys, learning about the history of the canal town and the problems the canal faces. St. Marys Mayor Patrick McGowan pointed to nutrient-heavy sediments that had built up along the bottom of the Miami-Erie Canal over the years and made the waterway shallower and encouraged algae growth. His generation has done a "crummy" job of taking care of their natural resources but many in the area are striving to clean up the waterways and protect water quality, he said.
Mellea said everyone in the area had been "so kind," and her students had learned more than they'd expected. She felt the students appreciated the trip especially because they could see the real-world value of what they were learning.
While a business owner talked about how the company needed to move away from the waterfront, a local fisherman discussed the negatives and unexpected positives of the algal bloom. Russ Bailey of St. Marys said the bloom had given the fish a much-needed break from fishing pressure and allowed them to grow larger.
And thanks to this field trip, Mellea's curiosity seems to have been piqued. She said the next time she brings a class to the area, she has a few more places in mind she would like to visit.
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