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PrattTribune - Pratt, KS
  • Farm ponds in deadly bloom

  • Blue green algae blooms are familiar sites at reservoirs and state lakes but they are also a problem on a much smaller scale.
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  • Blue green algae blooms are familiar sites at reservoirs and state lakes but they are also a problem on a much smaller scale.
    Farm ponds across the state are drying up but the remaining water is a breeding ground for the same type of algae blooms that have hit the reservoirs and lakes.
    In rare cases the toxins in the algae have proven to be fatal to livestock with one rancher in the east central part of the state losing 20 head of cattle, said Tom Langer, Kansas Department of Health and Environment director of the Bureau of Environmental Health.
    The bloom is actually a bacterium called microcystin that lives in the water. It reproduces rapidly then the cells die and rupture releasing the toxin that we see as the blue green algae then the cycle rapidly repeats itself, Langer said.
    A combination of elements has joined to make stock ponds a serious issue for farmers across the state.
    Watershed comes into the ponds and brings the elements necessary to produce the algae. The low water level allows the water to warmer up quicker causing the algae bloom at a fast rate, Langer said.
    Ponds that are normally five to 10 feet deep are now just two to six feet deep and that allows the water to warm up quickly. Wind helps reduce amount of sunlight that penetrates the ponds but with the low levels it doesn't take long for the water to heat up even with wind.
    A scum forms on top of the water in the form of a biomass that has the familiar blue green color associated with algae bloom.
    The toxic levels can be high in these ponds so ranchers and farmers need to keep a close monitor on the ponds.
    If toxin levels get high, the only solution is to switch the cattle to an alternative water source.
    Treatments like copper sulfate can be used on the ponds to kill the algae but the copper sulfate itself makes the water undrinkable for livestock.
    If the area gets rain it stirs up the water and makes it better for a while but rain also washes more nutrients that help form more algae so the cycle keeps repeating itself, Langer said.
    The mild winter was also a factor in forming algae. Warmer temperatures earlier in the year gave the algae plenty of time to bloom.
    A key to controlling algae bloom is watershed management. Maintaining a good, health eco system is vital to controlling the toxins that flow into the water ponds.
    "We need to be better stewards of watershed. We need to keep a good quality of water coming in and that can be difficult," Langer said.
    Page 2 of 2 - Everything that goes into the ground eventually up in the water so watershed management is vital to controlling blooms.
    Ponds, reservoirs and lakes are not the only problem areas for algae. Streams and rivers are also susceptible to algae during extremely low rainfall. Some streams in Kansas have stopped flowing and water is pooling in low spots. Those spots are stagnant and have the potential to produce algal blooms, according to KDHE.
    Cattle are not the only animals that can get sick or die from algae bloom. Horses, sheep, goats and even dogs are susceptible. In 2011, five dogs died after coming in contact with algae bloom water at Milford Lake.
    The dog's fur got wet then the dogs licked the fur and got the toxins in their systems. It is vital to pet owners to pay attention to bloom warnings at reservoirs and lakes as well as ponds and streams. They must keep dogs out of the water to prevent contact with bloom toxin.
    Fish have also died because of algae bloom. The bloom uses the oxygen in the ponds and the fish die from lack of oxygen in the water, said Mike Miller, Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks chief of information production.
    Fish deaths tend to happen during the day in hotter temperatures when photosynthesis uses up oxygen. Once the sun goes down no photosynthesis takes place and the temperature of the water goes down. Cool water holds more oxygen than warm water, Miller said.

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