Monday, 04 March 2024

Algae continues to raise concerns around Clear Lake

LAKE COUNTY – Smelly, yes. Sewage, no.


That's the word from local officials who are continuing to respond to concerns about the algae plaguing the lake this summer.


Huge mats of the blue-green algae lyngbya have been causing headaches for resort owners and residents over the last few months.


Reasons for the algae's appearance this year have been attributed to a variety of factors, including Clear Lake being at one of the lowest levels in a few decades, allowing sunlight to get through and support algae growth.


Some spots appear to be clearing, such as one area along the lakeshore in north Lakeport where residents previously reported thick mats.


Another town hall to discuss the local response to the problem is planned for 6 p.m. Thursday at Clearlake City Hall, 14050 Olympic Drive.


Lake County News has continued receiving reports from concerned residents and visitors who, in some areas around the lake, insist that they're seeing sewage, not algae.


A few such reports came in earlier this week in the Clearlake Keys.


However, Darin McCosker, general manager of the Clearlake Oaks County Water District, said they've continued responding to such reports but haven't found any sewage.


“We've been chasing down reports and Environmental Health has been chasing down reports,” he said.


McCosker said his staff also has been yelled at by angry individuals insisting that the district is allowing sewage to go out into the lake.


“We've gone out of our way to investigate everything,” McCosker said. “Every time something is alleged we go out and check manholes.”


He said repeated tests have shown that the problem isn't fecal matter, but algae.


Ray Ruminski, director of the county's Environmental Health agency, said they've done repeated tests around the lake for bacteria, finding that bacteria levels are higher in algae but don't rise to the level that would be present in a sewage spill.


There's been so much testing, Ruminski added, “We kinda busted our budget for lab samples already.”


His staff hasn't done specific testing in the Clearlake Keys areas in a few weeks, but they did respond to a complaint there on July 31.


Environmental Health staff encountered no human sewage but found “a big scummy algae mass,” Ruminski said.


There is a possibility, said Ruminski, that leach fields of properties around the lake are feeding nutrients into the lake that is encouraging algae growth. But he said local officials are convinced there isn't a sewage spill floating around the lake.


However, he added, “It smells like sewage. There's a very real connection in peoples' minds.”


He said the last time the algae was this bad was around 1991.


Most of the complaints were coming from the Clearlake Highlands area in June and early July, said Ruminski.


During the last week of July, the most complaints were coming from Clearlake Oaks, he said.


Ruminski suggested wind patterns are responsible for moving the algae mats around, but that the winds aren't strong enough to break up the mats.


Some residents are offering their own fixes.


Anthony Sperling, who live near Baylis Point, said he saw a huge mat – which he estimated to be 300 feet by 50 feet – coming toward his property on Tuesday evening.


He said if that mat had settled on the shoreline the stench and the algae itself would have pretty much put a halt to his family's enjoyment of their property and the lake for the rest of the summer.


So Sperling tried a low-tech solution – he drove his pontoon boat through it repeatedly. After about 50 to 60 passes through it, the mat was pretty well dispersed.


A similar solution was suggested at a previous algae town hall meeting held last month in Clearlake.


Sperling said it's not a “silver bullet” solution, but he said it's one way to chip away at the problem.


In the mean time, Ruminski said a health advisory about the algae issued June 12 is still in effect.


“Caution is advised but not panic, and that's different,” Ruminski said.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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