chemicals

Blue-Green Algae at Lake Pocotopaug Keeping Swimmers on the Shore

There’s a growing problem in East Hampton’s Lake Pocotopaug. The lake’s only public swimming area, Sears Beach, is closed because of dangerous levels of blue-green algae. Locals fear it will be weeks before it subsides.

“Nobody wants to go in the water,” said Gladys Yeager, owner of the Happiest Paddler watercraft rental.

Yeager has owned her business for 35 years. She also grew up on Lake Pocotopaug.

“Back then I could see what color my toenail polish was,” she recalls of the crystal clear lake.

Contaminants turned the waters into a murky muck.

“Now you can’t see more than three inches into the water,” said Yeager.

Her most popular rental, these paddle boards, are shelved. She’s worried about someone falling into the water and getting sick.

“The most common symptoms are a rash, gastrointestinal upset like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, some people will have problems with their liver if they consume a lot of the water,” explained Russell Melmed, the health director of Chatham Health District, which made the decision to close Sears Beach, a 30-second walk from Happiest Paddler.

Melmed explained that fertilizer and other chemicals that helps lawns and plants grow, runoff into the lake and feed the blue green algae.

“Typically you’ll see green globs floating under the surface of the water. You’ll see color of water on the top. It looks like blueish green streaks of paint,” said Melmed.

However, he added that you can’t tell whether blue-green algae is harmful just by looking at it. It has to be tested.

Melmed said Sears Beach is tested every week. Under 20,000 ppms is considered safe, between 20,000 and 100,000 swimmers are told to use caution, and anything over 100,000 calls for immediate closure. Melmed said the most recent tests showed 110,000 ppm in the lake.

Both Yeager and Melmed said the blooms usually happen in August and last until the weather cools down. However, this recent heat wave pushed everything up by about three weeks.

The water will be tested again next Tuesday.

Melmed said the health department only tested the waters around Sears Beach because the rest of the lake is private property. He cautioned that although the public part of the lake is showing the likelihood of a harmful algae bloom, that doesn’t mean the lake is tainted with toxic algae.

The damage is already done, said Yaeger who said she’s not getting the full value of her waterfront property by only being able to rent some of her watercraft, like kayaks. On Wednesday, she served only four customers in the first four hours she was open. She said she usually serves upwards of 15 during the week.

“And I don’t know what’s going to happen this weekend,” she added.

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