LAKEWOOD - Five beaches in Chautauqua County were closed Thursday due to blue-green algae.
The Lakewood Village Beach as well as Chautauqua Institution's Heinz, Children's, College Pier and University beaches were all shut down after unsafe levels were determined.
According to the Chautauqua County Health Department, blue-green algae is actually a type of cyanobacteria which can form thick mats on the water surface to resemble paint. The algae ranges in color from gray to various shades of yellow, green, blue or brown.
A warning sign notifying beachgoers of blue-green algae is posted on top of the everyday sign that sits before University Beach at the Chautauqua Institution on Thursday.
Photo by Emily Spielman
Christine Schuyler, county Public Health director, emphasized that, "the real threat to public health from cyanobacteria is when people or pets drink or otherwise ingest water directly from a lake where a bloom is occurring. Lake water that is properly treated through an approved Health Department water treatment plant does not pose a risk.
"Swimming or recreating in areas where the water contains high levels of toxin can cause skin irritation and other symptoms to those with high sensitivity."
Lakewood officials are working proactively to keep village residents safe from the algae. According to David Wordelmann, Lakewood mayor, the village clerk goes down to the beach with the lifeguards to inspect the area. Upon noticing a problem, the beach gets closed down for the day which has already happened six times this summer. Wordelmann noted this year the beach closings have happened earlier than in previous years when closing tended to start toward the end of July and beginning of August.
"We are kind of proactive with it. We actually haven't had any algae blooms as they call it," he said.
George Murphy, Chautauqua Institution's vice president and chief marketing officer, said a formal process takes place where the county calls the institution and warns officials to do visual inspections as well as daily testing.
"We have our lifeguards do it right away," Murphy said. "It is a combination of visual and water testing. Closings are literally day by day, with a new assessment every day."
Algae blooms appear as little white pods and are the actual toxin. While slime never has been proven to be detrimental to one's health, Wordelmann says Lakewood doesn't want to take a chance and the village closes the beach whenever the slime is found.
"We've had some of the greenish slime that gets on the lake," he said. "Typically what happens is in the morning when the lake is placid, it shows up along the shoreline areas ... and as the day progresses and the wind picks up a bit, then it tends to dissipate that."
The blue-green algae problem is hardly a new one to Lakewood. Wordelmann spoke of a time when he got infected back in the 1960s by Maple Springs due to the algae, although at that it time it went by the name of "seaweed poisoning." The algae is a result of poor septic systems and run-off from farms.
"The problem is ... we don't have a complete sewer system around the lake. A lot of the sewer systems we have aren't really capable of doing their job - they are not up to what they should be," Wordelmann said. "So, that's the biggest reason for it. ... The first thing we need to do of course is going to cost millions of dollars - probably upward to $100 million. We need to have a sewer system completely around the lake."
Currently, there is no known way to clean the slime off the lake besides allowing the waves to break it up. The reason the algae can only be seen during the summer is the influx of summer vacationers - the sewer system cannot handle the extra taxation on its pipes. Wordelmann says half of lake residents do not have a regular sewer system, they have a septic system. Nobody monitors these systems, so nobody knows if the systems are working anymore.
According to the mayor, the algae works better in shallower areas and Lakewood is located at the lower basin of the lake, where it is most shallow. He doesn't know why it collects on the beach though.