June 23, 2016

Campus Lake closed due to algae

by Tom Woolf

CARBONDALE, ILL. -- Southern Illinois University Carbondale again this year is advising individuals to avoid skin contact with water in Campus Lake due to the presence of toxic algae. The university soon will implement a plan designed to improve the health of the lake.

SIU’s Center for Environmental Health and Safety has been monitoring the lake on a weekly basis since late May, which coincided with a state advisory urging residents to watch for blue-green algae – also known as cyanobacteria -- in Illinois’ lakes and rivers. Rapid growth of algae is referred to as a “bloom.”

In conjunction with the ongoing monitoring, university officials have been exploring various options to address the naturally occurring problem on a longer-term basis. Campus Lake’s algae level was within acceptable standards until this week.

Human contact with the water can cause skin rashes. Officials strongly recommend keeping animals out of the water.

Kevin Bame, vice chancellor administration and finance, said fishing and boating on the 43-acre lake are temporarily prohibited. The university is posting warning signs. Area drinking water is not affected, and the walking path around the lake remains open.

Several factors have combined to create “perfect conditions” for the growth of the algae, Bame said, including the presence of organic material and summer’s warmer temperatures.

After discussing several options with faculty members and external experts, the university is moving forward with a plan to drop the lake level, which will expose approximately 20 acres of shoreline. In some areas of the lake, the water level is likely to drop approximately 6 feet; there will continue to be habitat for the lake’s fish and wildlife. The water will be discharged into the natural watershed tributary for Campus Lake.

Lowering the entire lake is expected to take a month. This will isolate decaying organic materials along the shoreline that act like wet compost, continually feeding the cyanobacteria and producing odor. Once the organic material left along the exposed shoreline has dried out, it will be disposed of organically or at a landfill. Excavation and removal will take approximately three-four months. It will take 12 to 15 months for the lake to return to its current level.

“The bulk of the algae bloom is in shallower water near Thompson Point,” Bame said. “We will be pulling the water toward the southeastern part of the lake, which is deeper. That is the area we anticipate the bulk of the fish will migrate to.”

Officials believe that this approach will improve the health of the lake and water quality. The university has applied for necessary federal and state permits, and is beginning the process of soliciting bids for the project. Total cost is expected to be between $300,000 and $350,000, and funds have been identified through University Housing, the SIU Foundation and the chancellor’s office to cover the cost.

Bame said other options considered by the university included chemically destroying the algae, which would have posed a significant risk to fish. Dredging the lake – last done in 1957 – is cost-prohibitive.