The toxic blue-green algae that infested many Kansas waterways this summer are dying off as the temperatures drop, but state officials say they're hard at work on a plan to combat the blooms when they return.


The toxic blue-green algae that infested many Kansas waterways this summer are dying off as the temperatures drop, but state officials say they're hard at work on a plan to combat the blooms when they return.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment tracked this summer's blooms in more than 40 lakes and ponds, and at least 16 people became ill from the algae-infested water, which also killed or sickened animals. The warnings also kept people away from some of the state's most popular summer recreation spots.

As the algal blooms disappear, state agencies are studying how well they responded to this year's outbreak and how to better manage future blooms, The Lawrence Journal-World reported Monday (http://bit.ly/pRDJxg ).

"As we go into the winter months, we aren't just going to put the binder back on the shelf," said Tom Langer, KDHE director of the Bureau of Environmental Health. "We are studying what we have learned. This was the second summer we have been collecting this type of data."

An epidemiologist will study the health effects of the blooms. All the data will be collected and state health officials plan to share any information they garner with other states. They hope to have some method for fighting the blooms, which are certain to return in future summers.

"For our state, the one thing we all have to understand is based on the geography of where we live. Every lake, every pond is a candidate," Langer said.

Nutrients that flow into watersheds and water bodies make it easier for algae to flourish, so methods to control those nutrient runoffs are important.

"This is not something you can flip the switch and change. It takes decades and decades to get to a condition like this. And it will take decades before we resolve this," Langer said.

The algae hurt businesses that depend on visitors who use the waterways for swimming, wading and water skiing.

"It scared away a lot of people," said Jan Boan, who owns the Flagstop Resort and RV Park, a campground on the edge of the state's largest reservoir, Milford Lake, which was closed for most uses during much of the summer.

The toxic bloom worsened in Milford Lake because of summer flooding on the Missouri River, which pushed the reservoir 15 feet above its normal level. And for much of the summer, none of that extra water could be released from the reservoir because of downstream flooding.

When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers finally released water from Milford Lake in late August, the water brought toxic levels of blue-green algae to the Kansas River, prompting the city of Lawrence to stop drawing water from the river. Tests later showed that the blue-green algae levels weren't detected in treated drinking water. But it showed how interconnected watersheds are in the state.

"We want people to understand the severity of it. It's not just white noise, Chicken Little or a boy crying wolf," Langer said. "It is going to affect every single one of us. We rely on water. It's important that we are taking the proper steps."