The Kentucky Division of Water has identified potentially harmful algal blooms, or HABs, in 15 Kentucky lakes this summer, including Carpenters Lake in Daviess County. The lakes are still open, but the DOW advises the public to avoid exposure to HABs, which can cause skin irritation and stomach pain.
Environmental biologist for the DOW Mark Martin said more data is needed to determine whether or not HABs are happening more frequently, but the amount of nutrients like nitrates and phosphorous that are making their way into the watershed has increased over the last few decades, improving conditions for HABs.
Martin said Division of Water will analyze west Kentucky lakes next year. He says HABs prefer still water and may not be much of a concern in Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley because the water flows through them quickly. He said it is more likely to find HABs in bays where backwater stagnates, allowing for the accumulation of algae.
The Division of Water released a draft Nutrient Reduction Strategy in March, but Martin said that work to minimize nutrient runoff began long before HAB’s became a point of discussion. Accumulation of nutrients in the Mississippi River has caused a drop in oxygen levels, known as hypoxia, in the Gulf of Mexico, resulting in fish kills that deplete fisheries and disrupt ecosystems.
“The EPA has been prompting states to regulate this to lessen he effect in the Gulf of Mexico,” Martin said. “Because what goes on in Kentucky will eventually flow down to the gulf.”
He said it has been difficult to minimize nutrients because Kentucky does not regulate nonpoint source pollution, like agriculture and urban runoff, habitat alteration, and atmospheric deposition, which contributes to the impairment of 80 percent of Kentucky’s waters.
“We can’t tell a golf course not to put fertilizer, we can’t tell a farmer to fertilize right down to a creek. It’s not within our purview to do that,” Martin said. “There are a lot of variables here, both scientifically and politically.”
The Division of Water, the Kentucky Geological Survey, and the U.S. Corp of Army Engineers all report low funding for HAB research. For now, agencies are working to increase public awareness on how to avoid exposure.