Stockbridge Bowl algae bloom ugly but not toxic

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STOCKBRIDGE — A rust-colored, nontoxic muck has spread over sections of Stockbridge Bowl, alarming swimmers and boaters flocking to the lake on one of the hottest days of the summer.

After testing the waters, the state Department of Public Health determined Wednesday afternoon that the slimy substance is algae bloom. It's safe but not recommended for swimming or drinking.

The appearance of discolored water was first reported to town officials Monday by harbormaster Gary Kleinerman, who stated that the water temperature peaked at 82 on Tuesday.

Aquatic ecologist Tom Flannery of the state Department of Conservation and Recreation determined, based on photos, that the muck is not cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) associated with typical toxic blooms. "I would advise swimmers to stay out of visible scums regardless," he said in an email. "And as you would imagine, ingestion of any lake water is always discouraged."

Town Administrator Danielle Fillio toured the lake Wednesday morning, taking pictures to send to the state DCR. She stated that town officials have been told by DCR and by Tri-Town Health that "these types of things do happen in a lake due to large amounts of heavy rain and excessive heat."

Fillio told The Eagle that the town started receiving several complaints on Monday, prompting a quick reach-out to Tri-Town Health, which covers Stockbridge, Lee and Lenox.

"They informed me that their weekly water testing in the swimming area at the beach came back normal with no elevated levels of E. coli or bacteria," she said in an email.

"On Tuesday we began getting a much larger number of complaints and a notice from our harbormaster. Both Gary Kleinerman and I then contacted DCR with our main concern to get enough evidence to them to make sure that it was not cyanobacteria, which is the blue-green algae."

Fillio stated that since cyanobacteria has been ruled out, the Department of Environmental Protection is seeking to determine the type of algae bloom that's on the lake.

"We have been working closely with DEP, DCR and DPH, which have been extremely helpful and responsive to make sure that everyone remains safe," she said. "We are told that it is an algae bloom. DEP is working to mobilize a crew to come out to do some testing."

Fillio said that the Bowl remains safe for boating, including kayaks.

Algae blooms have blossomed this summer along portions of Florida's Gulf and Atlantic coasts, and most recently in Lake Erie and Lake Superior.

Scientists generally agree that algae blooms are getting worse and more widespread, and are intensified by warmer water, heat waves and extreme weather associated with climate change, according to a report on Wednesday in the New York Times. They are also intensified by human activity, such as from farm and phosphorus runoff, leakage from sewer systems and other pollution, scientists say.

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.

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