July 6, 2008

Tribune-Democrat, Johnstown, Pa., Joe Gorden Column: Park Takes Action to Clean Lake

By Joe Gorden, Tribune-Democrat, Johnstown, Pa.

Jul. 6--The search for a solution to the murky waters at Bedford County's Shawnee State Park continues without answers, but not without action.

Early last week, state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) personnel sprayed a section of the lake with copper sulfate to combat increasing levels of blue-green algae.

"I haven't seen any changes yet," park manager Bob Bromley said a few days after the treatment. "But, I don't expect them before seven days."

Bromley is hoping for a noticeable change by the middle of this week.

The treatment was applied with an airboat to a 42-acre section of the lake -- about 10 percent of the surface area -- between Route 96 and the mouth of Kegg Run. Although the chemical kills algae, it is considered harmless to swimmers, anglers and the Bedford Water Authority customers whose drinking water comes from Shawnee.

Shawnee has been plagued for years by cloudy water which, in turn, is blamed for the loss of its once-extensive weed growth.

Last year, testing found high concentrations of blue-green algae, and the problem was blamed on that growth. This spring, tests indicated that the algae might not be the cause.

But, it is believed excessive algae growth would add to the turbidity if not treated, and might threaten the fishery if allowed to grow unchecked.

"We've been finding higher counts of blue-green algae, particularly in this area of the lake." Bromley said. "There are no plans at the present time to treat more. We're hoping we can kill this blue-green algae there before it comes down into the rest of the lake."

Bromley said Shawnee's waters seem to be a little better this year, although it is too soon to say for sure. Testing is done with a "Secchi disk," which is used to measure water clarity.

"I was down in the lower part of the lake, between the two bridges, and put a Secchi disk down in the water," Bromley said. "The reading I got on it was 4 to 41/2 feet in that section of the lake. I have good feelings about that part of the lake."

Andy St. John, park manager in DCNR's state parks resource management section and the fellow who directed the spray crew, said he is also optimistic.

"Secchi disk depths are really improving in Shawnee Branch and in the main body of the lake," he said. "We didn't see the blue-greens pop up as early in the season as we expected it to, but when they popped up a couple of weeks ago, given the season, it makes sense (to spray). If we can stop them there, we have a good chance at stopping them from migrating into the rest of the lake."

Meanwhile, St. John said, there is evidence that some aquatic vegetation is returning to Shawnee.

"The floating vegetation is really starting to take off up at Kegg Run, and there is some submerged vegetation popping up there," he said.

That's good news on two fronts. Fish need aquatic weeds for cover and to provide feeding areas, and there has been a dramatic perceived decline in Shawnee's fishery during the past few years. Also, it is thought that healthy weed growth could help comb sediment out of the water and clear it even further.

So, St. John is pleased to see the common water lilies covering the surface in the upper end of Shawnee's Kegg Run arm.

And, he's really happy to have found some coontail growing underwater in the same area.

Whether the spraying will help the situation at the popular lake remains to be seen. But, many of Shawnee's favorite customers are sure to be pleased that something, at least, is being tried.

Joe Gorden is the outdoors writer for The Tribune-Democrat.


To see more of The Tribune-Democrat or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.tribune-democrat.com.

Copyright (c) 2008, Tribune-Democrat, Johnstown, Pa.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

For reprints, email [email protected], call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.