Science Beat: Nutrient runoff contributing to algae blooms in Mirror Lake

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Algae blooms are generally a benign problem when they’re confined to small lakes such as Mirror Lake (Julie Spillane/The Daily Campus)

Storm runoff and insufficient infrastructure are contributing to the algae blooms seen in Mirror Lake at the University of Connecticut, said Connecticut Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officials director Michael Dietz.

Much of the rainwater that falls on campus ends up draining into the lakes, carrying all the contaminants it makes contacts with, Dietz said.

“When it rains, water from a large area of parking lots, roads, rooftops and lawn drains to the lake. This water contains nutrients which cause algae blooms in the lake,” Dietz said.

Algae blooms are mainly caused by excess nutrients, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and flourish in stagnant, shallow bodies of water, especially those that are surrounded by lawns or agricultural areas saturated with nutrients.

Such high nutrient levels are often due to on the application of fertilizer to lawns, gardens and farms where they aren’t fully absorbed by plants and wash into local waterways. Fertilizers are applied to the lawns on campus, said Supervisor of UConn Landscape Services, Wesley Ayers III.

“The last fertilizer application was on [Aug. 1] with focus on the Great Lawn and core campus,” Ayers said.

When algae grows in bodies of water, fueled by unlimited nutrient-rich runoff, a process known as eutrophication occurs, according to Nature Education. Eutrophication leads to a severe lack of oxygen in the lake that eventually kills off most visible life forms within it.

Algae blooms are generally a benign problem when they’re confined to small lakes such as Mirror Lake, according to Penn State studies; however, exposure to various strains of algae is dangerous and can lead to stomach sickness and liver disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control. It is recommended that students do not enter any water that is green, stagnant or scummy.

Third semester management information systems major Alex Massoumi described the appearance of the lake as “a problem.”

“It really affects the beauty of the surrounding area,” Massoumi said.

As a solution, Dietz said UConn occasionally treats the water in order to try and remove as much of the eyesore as possible.

The long-term resolution has been outlined on the UConn Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officials website, demonstrating that attempts have been made to install infrastructure that prevents the runoff of storm water into Mirror Lake by allowing it to drain into gardens, through porous concrete or onto green roofs. The UConn Green Infrastructure Virtual Tour is an interactive means of viewing these installations.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, these algae blooms are difficult to predict; however, they are more prevalent whenever fertilizer has been applied, weather conditions are favorable and water is stagnant. Additionally, Pennsylvania State University publications states that excessive algae growth in small ponds can be expected to continue fouling the water until the weather is too cold for the algae to survive.


Peter Goggins is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at peter.goggins@uconn.edu

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