As Stockbridge Bowl algae tests await, town crosses fingers for good bill of health
STOCKBRIDGE — The potentially toxic algae bloom that has put the state-owned Stockbridge Bowl off-limits for boating and swimming is dissipating, according to Gary Kleinerman, the town's harbormaster.
Lake samples were scheduled to be collected Wednesday, the first of two weekly inspections conducted for a lab analysis and report to the state Department of Public Health.
If both inspections yield a clean bill of health for the lake, Tri-Town Health and the Stockbridge Board of Health could lift the state's health advisory announced last Thursday because of the possibly hazardous cyanobacteria found in the algae.
But it won't be soon enough for organizers of Sunday's Josh Billings RunAground triathlon, who were forced to move the paddle portion of the race to Richmond Pond.
Town Administrator Danielle Fillio told Select Board members Wednesday that unofficial lake-monitoring inspections Monday and Tuesday found "no visible signs of the brown algae." Based on results from the two consecutive state DPH inspections, "they'll tell us where we go from here," she said.
Select Board Chairman Donald Chabon credited Fillio for serving as liaison with the state and local committees, and for getting warning signs printed and posted at key locations around the lake. The signs are posted at the boat-launching ramp off Route 183, the town beach off Mahkeenac Road, the Hawthorne Road causeway, Gould Meadows, Bullard Woods and the waterfall at the southern end of the lake's outlet channel.
Fillio also sent out two automated phone calls to town residents Friday relaying the state Department of Public Health's advisory urging people and their pets to avoid contact with the contaminated lake water.
Chabon cited the town's Board of Health and Tri Town Health, which covers Stockbridge, Lenox and Lee, as "constant advocates for lake health" and for "keeping on top of things."
Also, he said, the town's Conservation Commission will investigate environmental sources of pollution that might have helped cause the algae buildup, such as septic system and fertilizer chemicals from private institutions and private homes. Scientists also blame excessive heat and rainfall for hundreds of algae blooms that have developed in freshwater lakes nationally, and in the Gulf of Mexico along Florida's southwest coast.
"We need to start looking toward improving lake health," Chabon said. "We've been doing it all along, but we need to go a little further. We will keep everybody up on what's happening, and we'll be as open as we're capable of."
Meanwhile, for owners taking their watercraft out of Stockbridge Bowl for the season, Kleinerman, the harbormaster, advised that the town's inspection station at the boat-launching ramp will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday, and on Monday, Wednesday and Friday during the same hours, to wash down possible algae buildups from residents' boats.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that some cyanobacteria blooms are harmful because they can produce cyanotoxins, which are "among the most powerful natural poisons known. They can sicken people, their pets and other animals, the CDC advises, but "unfortunately, there are no remedies to counteract the effects."
The CDC also notes that there is no way to determine if a bloom has toxins by looking at it, and specialized testing only can be done by a few laboratories.
"Scientists are working to develop toxic test kits for water resource managers and others," the federal agency stated on its website, adding, "When in doubt, it's best to keep out."
Clarence Fanto can be reached at email@example.com, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.