The presence of blue-green algae in Grand Lake confirms the fears of an organization that has been working quietly to build support for a long-term strategic plan for protecting the lake’s water quality.
The Grand Lake Watershed Alliance Foundation, formed in 2007, has been seeking support from key agencies and organizations in Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas – all states within the Grand Lake watershed.
“Until now, it’s been hard to get the attention we need to take action and effect change,” said Pete Churchwell of Grove, spokesperson for the alliance. “The issue is extremely complex, with 92 percent of the watershed outside Oklahoma. Clearly, we won’t be able to resolve it in the long term through steps taken solely at Grand Lake, given the massive size of the watershed.”
GLWAF is a 501(c)(3) organization with the goal of helping preserve, protect, and improve water quality within the Grand Lake watershed. The alliance is the only organizational voice for the entire watershed, which covers nearly 10,300 square miles. Its board of directors includes stakeholders from each of the four watershed states.
Churchwell said that the alliance issued a report on the watershed in 2008, which noted elevated levels of nutrients, including phosphorous, in the watershed. High levels of these nutrients, in part, can lead to serious blue-green algae outbreaks. Nutrients are transported in the watershed by attaching to sediment particles that enter Grand Lake.
In response to the report, the alliance developed a strategic plan for addressing the issue. The plan included building support among stakeholders in all four states, informing governmental officials of the risks, proposing solutions, and increasing cooperation between the states by hosting three watershed conferences. The conferences were attended by water quality-related agencies from the four states and the two Environmental Protection Agency regions responsible for the watershed.
Other actions taken by the alliance include meetings with Grand Lake area legislators as well as meetings with the Oklahoma Secretary of Environment and Oklahoma Conservation Commission. Members of the alliance board have appeared before numerous civic groups in the watershed, represented the watershed at various water-related conferences and meetings, and consulted with U.S. congressmen about the issues. In addition, the alliance has upgraded its web site to provide more educational information about the watershed, and has partnered with the City of Grove for future preparation of a Grove watershed improvement plan.
“The Watershed Alliance has launched these initiatives despite limited funds, dependence on the work of volunteers, and a certain level of apathy toward the issue. Other watersheds are outpacing ours because citizens are demanding that their waters be protected,” said John Gillette, president of the alliance. “This alliance provides citizens and stakeholders the forum and means to have an active voice in shaping the future of the watershed.”
“The good news is that we have studied the problem, crafted a strategic plan, and have taken action to enlist support. As we move forward, we will need the help of many more stakeholders and interested parties.”
He noted that the alliance has a web site at www.glwaf.org, which offers information about the organization and the serious risks facing Grand Lake and the entire watershed. The site also offers opportunities for people to become involved by becoming a member of the organization and by making financial contributions to its work.
Individuals also can take direct action, Gillette said, by making others aware of the need to get involved in protecting Grand Lake. He said, “We need people to talk to their local, state and federal officials, as well as community leaders, about their concerns for protecting Grand Lake’s waters.”
Grand Lake residents also can take some simple actions to help protect the lake in the long term. For example:
• Use only phosphorous-free commercial fertilizers unless soil tests show otherwise. Plant life does not need much phosphorous and the excess drains into Grand Lake.
• Use phosphate-free laundry and dishwasher detergents at home.
• Don’t throw lawn clippings or yard waste into the lake or into storm water drainage systems.
• Make sure septic systems are working properly and pump the system every three to five years.
• Call on local community and government leaders to have waste-water treatment plants reduce the amount of phosphorous released directly into Grand Lake.