Toxins force a rare shutdown at the reservoir | Marion County Record


Toxins will force a rare shutdown at the reservoir

Staff writer

In a rare, possibly unprecedented move, Marion Reservoir was closed to all visitors Thursday after tests found not only extremely high levels of blue-green algae, but the potentially deadly toxins they release.

The next day, Marion County Lake was placed under the second most important algae alert, a more well-known “alert.” The county lake remains open, but visitors are warned not to come into contact with lake water.

Barricades were erected at the reservoir Thursday and park rangers traveled to all picnic areas, campgrounds, boat docks and swimming areas to instruct visitors to exit the lake, lake manager Brock DeLong said.

“People are understandably very frustrated,” he said.

Relatively few people were at the reservoir when its closure was ordered, but a “decent number” of reservations for the weekend were also canceled, DeLong said.

The reservoir, which is just beginning its most popular visiting time, is expected to remain closed to all visitors for a week. All camping deposits until June 9th will be refunded.

The “hazard” level ordered Thursday by the Kansas Department of Health and Environmental Protection is the highest of three recommendations for blue-green algae and is rarely used, said KDHE spokesman Matt Lara.

“It doesn’t happen often,” Lara said. “The last time anyone in the state reached that level was probably in 2017, and for a short time.”

The reservoir and lake were tested again on Monday, but the results won’t be available until Thursday.

Lara said his information didn’t include a complete list of which of several toxins produced by blue-green algae, technically called cyanobacteria, were present in the reservoir’s water. Some are relatively harmless and cause little more than skin irritation in humans. However, some are potentially deadly neurotoxins that have killed animals and isolated cases of humans worldwide.

He said that cyanobacteria in the reservoir released microcystin, a potent liver toxin and possible human carcinogen. Cyanotoxins such as microcystin can kill livestock and pets that drink affected water. Fish and bird kills have also been reported in waters with ongoing cyanobacteria blooms.

There was no indication whether the most dangerous of the cyanotoxins, a neurotoxin produced by the cyanobacteria strain Anaboena, was found in the water.

“We wanted to get this under control as quickly as possible,” DeLong said.

Officials are concerned not only about touching or drinking water from reservoirs, but also about breathing air containing misted water from boats or skiers. That is why the entire reservoir was closed for all types of recreation, even picnics.

Over the past 18 years, the reservoir and lake have frequently been under blue-green algae warnings or surveillance, but this appears to be the first time since KDHE began announcing algae advisories that the entire reservoir has been closed.

Much of Marion County’s drinking water comes from the reservoir. However, water works operators say new devices installed at water treatment plants in Marion and Hillsboro after blue-green algae initially appeared are removing potential toxins and keeping drinking water safe.

A warning was issued at Kreissee on Friday. The lake will not be closed, but visitors are advised to avoid all contact with lake water and wash with clean water as soon as possible if lake water touches their skin.

Livestock and pets should be prevented from drinking lake water, which humans should never consume regardless of blue-green algae status.

Fish caught in the lake may still be eaten, but only if they are rinsed with clean water and everything but the fillet is discarded.

Both the more serious “danger” status at the reservoir and the second-tier “warning” status at the county lake are based on tests conducted on Memorial Day, when both bodies of water were crowded with visitors. So far, no sickness reports from Monday visitors have been published.

Nearby Herington City Lake was also placed on the “alert list” on Friday.


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