Thursday, December 12, 2013 1:59 AM
Published on: Thursday, September 05, 2013
By Holden Wilen
ROCKVILLE – A month after warning county residents of contamination in Lake Needwood, Montgomery County Parks officials are sending notices out again—this time warning residents about contamination in Lake Frank.
According to the warning, microcystin, a toxic substance produced by blue-green algae has been detected in Lake Frank. Jai Cole, an aquatic ecologist and principal natural resource specialist for Montgomery County Parks, said the algae typically forms later in the summer when temperatures are up and the water is calm.
Microcystin attacks the liver and is harmful if ingested in large quantities, Cole said. However, she said there has never been an instance of death attributed to microcystin, and Lake Frank is not a source of drinking water. Additionally, the park does not allow swimming in the lake. Those most in danger to the toxin, she said, are dogs.
“Where the algae really accumulate is on the edges of the lake, where dogs go to drink and jump in,” Cole said. “They can consume large enough quantities of the water that they can actually get sick, so we are warning people to keep an eye on their pets.”
County Councilman Roger Berliner, who chairs the council’s transportation, infrastructure, energy and environment committee said there is not much that can be done from a policy-making position because the algae growth is a naturally occurring phenomenon. However he said the county is always looking into ways to protect the environment.
“We are about to have an inquiry into the use of pesticides,” Berliner said. “This is going to be an important conversation. Takoma Park placed restrictions on the use of pesticides in their city. We are going to have a conversation and look at what actions, if any, should the county take.”
While the algae is caused by naturally occurring circumstances, Cole said urbanization in Montgomery County is a contributing factor to the contamination in lakes because increased levels of nitrogen and phosphorus, two of the main elements in fertilizer, increases the likelihood of an algae bloom.
“If I put fertilizer on my lawn, then my lawn grows green. If fertilizer gets in the water, the water turns green. It is fuel for the algae,” Cole said. “Lake Frank and Lake Needwood were originally built for stormwater management a long time ago. They were built for flood control of all points south of Rock Creek. Unfortunately we are the collecting body for basically everything that runs off from most points north of the lake.”
Montgomery Parks is looking to into how to prevent contamination, Cole said, but it is tough because of how large the lakes are. One solution which could help is dredging the lake to get some of the sediment out. Cole said planting trees around lakes can also help because the roots will take in some of nutrients.
Geoffrey Mason, a senior natural resources specialist for Montgomery Parks also said Maryland is implementing a new fertilizer law this fall. According to the Maryland Department of Agriculture, the new law, which goes into effect on Oct. 1, prohibits fertilizers containing phosphorus.
“Hopefully with the laws and regulations we will see change,” Cole said.