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Algae growth affecting Bryce Resort lake

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Algae blooms on Lake Laura at Bryce Resort are shown in this submitted photograph. Courtesy photo

By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

The same nutrients blamed for algae growth on the Shenandoah River may cause problems for its tributaries and other connected waterways, including Lake Laura at Bryce Resort.

Shenandoah Riverkeepers filed papers with the Virginia Department of Environment Quality on Friday seeking the agency to designate the waterway as "impaired" because of the pervasive algae growth seen in recent years. At points along the river, residents and property owners as well as users of the waterway complained the algae kept them from using the Shenandoah for recreational purposes. The algae often grew in such amounts as to create a strong, unpleasant odor.

The algae poses no hazards to human health, experts say. But the plant life, in abundance, can deter people from using the waterway, according to complaints filed with the documents.

Basye resident B. Hays Lantz Jr. claims algae blooms continue to plague Lake Laura in Bryce Resort. Lantz joined the dozens of people who filed complaints about the algae problem

"Last summer it was so thick and the stench got so great as if it were rotting that you couldn't stand to go near that part of the lake," Lantz recalled.

But Lantz says the algae problem surfaced in the late 1970s or 1980s and remains a concern among users, especially other residents of Bryce who live along the lake.

Lantz built a home on the lake in 1981 and moved there permanently years ago.

"So I really have first-hand experience looking at the lake and what's happening to it every season," Lantz said. "Typically you'll not see much until middle of June, July, August, September. It increasingly gets really bad."

Lantz, who has a science and biology background, explained the shallow, southern end of the lake appears more susceptible to the growth. Lantz estimated algae recently covered approximately 20 percent of the lake, rendering it "almost unusable" for boaters.

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries began documenting the algae issue on the lake approximately 20 years ago "when it was really getting bad," according to Lantz.

Lantz acknowledged that Bryce does not cause the algae problem but said he thinks the resort could do more to remedy the situation. Years ago the resort put grass carp in the lake which eat aquatic vegetation.

"I can't see that they've had any impact at all," Lantz said.

Bryce Resort's General Manager Rob Schwartz acknowledged the algae matter on the lake exists.

"I've certainly noticed in certain areas increased algae but my understanding at certain points it was because of how water exited from the lake," Schwartz said.

Schwartz noted the algae growth can hinder the aesthetics of the lake and the plants cause a nuisance for boaters and the engine propellers.

The resort could dredge the lake to lower the floor and remove the sediment, according to Schwartz, who acknowledged some residents would like to see done. However, Schwartz noted the option remains costly at and estimated $250,000.

Test show nutrients upstream from the lake appear in abundance but he questioned whether these chemicals served as the sole cause of the algae in the lake, Schwartz said.

"The vegetation growth in Lake Laura is caused by excessive nutrients, which is true, but I don't know that any parallels can be drawn, frankly, from what's up above at this point in time," Schwartz said. "It's mostly because of sunlight penetration."

As Schwartz explained, the accumulation of sediment causes one end of the lake to grow more shallow. Sunlight penetrates the surface of the lake and reaches the floor to cause plant growth. But Schwartz noted this phenomenon causes the growth of other "nuisance vegetation" such as coontail.

Schwartz acknowledged that tributaries upstream from the lake remain "challenged" in terms of the nutrients found in the water even as work continues to remedy the issue.

"But what they're finding in the studies of the lake itself, the lake is doing what it is intended to do -- it acts as a filter -- because the testing down below the lake has not been bad at all," Schwartz said. "In fact it's been very, very good, as has the lake itself. The lake tests high in some nutrients but, frankly, from a recreation standpoint it tests very, very well."

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