Monday, June 23rd, 2014

Locals loyal to Grand Lake

By Kathy Thompson
Photo by Mark Pummell/The Daily Standard

A boat zips across Grand Lake on Thursday. Longtime lake users say the condition of the lake is not much different than what they remember from years ago.

Noxious algae, green water and warnings by the state to avoid contact with the water haven't dampened everyone's perception of Grand Lake.
Amy Wendlen, a bartender at Shocker's Bar and Grill in Celina, said she boats on the lake, eats the fish and even takes her 6-year-old golden retriever for a swim in it.
"I've been on this lake almost all my life," she said. "I haven't a moment's hesitation about getting on a boat and getting out on it. We do it as much as we can. Love this lake."
Warnings for several years about the toxic lake water haven't stopped customers from coming in, she said.
"We may not get the business like we did before the problems, but we still are doing good," Wendlen said.
Her sentiments are shared.
Mike Staugler, 47, owns an area construction company and works around the lake throughout the year. He believes it someday will return to the "grandness" it once was.
"People need
to come here and see for themselves," he said. "I go boating and jet skiing. I fish and eat what I catch. This isn't like it was in 2010 when it smelled so bad. That was a bad year. This is a great spot for kids and family. We just have to let people know it."
The lake's problems came to a head in 2009 when the blue-green algae in the lake were deemed toxic; the state ordered the lake closed to all activity in 2010. Humans and animals were sickened by the toxins and in 2011 the 58,000-acre watershed surrounding the waterway was designated distressed.
Experts determined the toxins in the water are mainly due to the phosphorous in manure run-off that empties into the lake and feeds the blue-green algae. The state has placed restrictions on when farmers may apply manure and has mandated they have nutrient management plans.
Tests determining the level of microcystin - a liver toxin produced by the algae - are conducted regularly at various locations around the lake. Last week, levels ranged from 40 parts per billion to 70 ppb. Results the week prior to Memorial Day weekend ranged from 21.4 ppb to more than 100 ppb.
A reading of 6 ppb or higher triggers a recreational water advisory, which was posted last month for the sixth consecutive summer. A water advisory warns the very young, elderly and those with compromised immune systems to avoid contact.
The World Health Organization's guideline for banning recreational contact is 20 ppb and higher, which is considered the upper end of the moderate risk range.
Dina Pierce, EPA spokeswoman, said it's not clear why the lake's toxins are lower this month. Many factors affect the growth of harmful algae, she noted.
"Available nutrients in the water (phosphorus and nitrogen) and weather patterns drive the issue of algae growth," Pierce said. "As for the toxin levels, blue-green algae tend to produce toxins when they die off, but not always. Wind and wave action also affect where blooms may be located at the time samples are taken."
The city of Celina draws its drinking water from Grand Lake. Water superintendent Mike Sudman said the city uses an activated carbon filtration system to clean the water before it's delivered to about 11,000 homes. The condition of the lake has never jeopardized the municipal water supply.
Montezuma resident Joe Hein, 45, shook his head and laughed when asked about the lake's problems.
"We knew as kids that you didn't put your head under the water in July, you rinsed off when you got done swimming, and in August you just didn't get in the water," he said. "The lake has always had the algae. It's always had that green color. People have been dumping their sewage in the lake for years and I don't just mean the farmers. I think the media likes to hype it up and scare people, which is really unfair. This is a great lake. Been here all my life. Love every minute of it."
Hein, who works on Lake Erie during the summer, says he spends as much time as he can fishing, tubing and boating with his 9-year-old son on Grand Lake. He hates it when people refer to it as the poster child for "being the bad lake."
"We're not the only ones having trouble. Lake Erie is having a hell of a time right now," Hein said. "People up there are depending on that lake with their lives. You have fishermen, charter captains, the hotels, the fisheries. Look at Indian Lake. Look at any lake in the country. We've all got the same issue."
Hein believes officials are doing as much as they can with what they have. He praised the work of groups like the Lake Improvement Association, Lake Facilities Authority and the Guardians of the Lake.
Within the past six years alum treatments costing $8.4 million have been conducted on the lake and four dredges are being used this summer. Other measures being used to improve water quality include rough fish removal, linear aeration, lake leveling and the creation of wetlands.
"I think people should promote the hell out of the lake," Hein said. "Stop badmouthing it. The more people that come to the lake, the more money we'll have to pour into it. This lake was a hole dug out of a swamp. I think she's got a big cut on her arm that she's trying to fix. I give the people trying to help credit. At least they're trying to do something."
Chris Clark, owner of Zuma Bait, said he experienced a sharp decline in customers in 2010.
"People stayed away," he said. "Since then, people have been coming back. It's safe to eat the fish even though there just may be some times when you don't want to touch them. The crappies were great this year and on Memorial Day weekend I had at least 300 customers."
Those who spoke to the newspaper said they understand why state officials have posted the water advisory each summer.
"You got to let the people know so they can make their own choice," Clark said.
A group of friends from St. Marys, Delphos and Wapakoneta gave their opinion of the lake while playing cards last week at the state park campgrounds where they've congregated for about 50 years.
Tom Moran of Wapakoneta said he doesn't swim in the lake due to the warnings and does not eat the fish he catches.
"If I can't swim in it, I'm not eating the fish," he said.
His friend, Kathleen Koenig, also of Wapakoneta, agreed and added the blame for the lake's problems can't be placed solely on the farmers.
"We've all had a hand in it," she said. "Now we all have to do what we can to improve it."
Paul Cullers, 80, owner of D&W Marina and Woodhaven Mobile Home Park and Campgrounds along the lake, said he has seen better years. He purchased the marina in 1973 and the mobile home park in 1971 and recalled the customer waiting lists he kept for each.
"Today I have empty lots and no waiting lists," Cullers said.
He blames the media and the economy.
"I've been at this lake since the 1940s and it's no worse than back then. The lake's condition is not the trouble. It's the people involved that are the problem," he said.
Cullers said April was a very bad month because of the weather but May was super. June has been mediocre.
"I truly believe that this lake will turn around," Cullers said. "I hope to live long enough to see it."
Photo by Mark Pummell/The Daily Standard

Amy Wendlen, an employee at Shocker's Bar and Grill, said she doesn't hesitate to boat or fish on Grand Lake even after the state for the sixth consecutive year issued a water advisory due to unsafe algae toxin levels in the lake.

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