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Algae levels in Lake Lanier spiked to 20-year high in 2019
Lake Lanier
Lake Lanier as seen from the air in July 2017. - photo by Nick Bowman

Lake Lanier contained more algae in 2019 than in the previous 20 years, according to data reported by Chattahoochee Riverkeeper.

“Our region’s prosperity depends on a healthy Lake Lanier,” Dale Caldwell, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper’s headwaters director, said in a statement. “The high algae levels that we saw in 2019 indicate that we need to do a better job of controlling the amount of nutrients flowing into the lake.”
When excess nutrients flow into the lake, algae blooms in the water. Chlorophyll is the main indicator used to detect that algae.

Pollution flowing from industrial facilities, agricultural operations or sewage treatment plants, as well as stormwater runoff, can cause too much algae to bloom in the water.

Too much algae in the water can negatively affect water quality and affect the taste and smell of drinking water. It can also raise the cost of treating the water and deprive aquatic life of the oxygen it needs.

Chattahoochee Riverkeeper has been testing chlorophyll levels at 10 locations on Lake Lanier once a month between April and October since 2010, and the environmental group monitors algae levels in accordance with a Sampling and Quality Assurance Plan approved by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. The EPD also collects water samples and has been monitoring the lake since 2000.

Data collected by Chattahoochee Riverkeeper is averaged with data collected by the EPD and Gwinnett County’s Department of Water Resources. Between 2000 and 2018, these monitored chlorophyll levels increased at an average of 0.17 microgram per liter each year. Between 2018 and 2019, however, the increase was about 3.72 micrograms per liter. 

The EPD has published a cleanup plan for Lake Lanier that identifies the discharge of treated wastewater as the main source of nutrients leading to algae. Fertilizers, agriculture and failing septic tanks are listed as other sources. The cleanup plan includes ideas such as working with county health departments on proper installation and maintenance of septic tanks, educating the public on fertilizer use, and controlling erosion. The full plan is available on the EPD website.

Chattahoochee Riverkeeper plans to work with local governments and utilities to help implement the plan.

“This alarming spike in chlorophyll levels highlights the need for this cleanup plan,” Riverkeeper Jason Ulseth said in a statement. “We will be doing everything we can to make sure that those who manage the sources of the excess nutrients flowing into Lake Lanier are taking action to address this public health threat as quickly as possible.” 

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