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Lakewood Beach forced to close swimming area after suspected bloom of blue-green algae

LAKEWOOD – Chelsea Card and Sydney Pascarella spent Friday playing in the sand at Lakewood Beach with a dozen or so children they manage in a summertime program as Busti-Lakewood recreation counselors.

The sky was sunny and the temperature was in the upper 70s but – for the first time this summer – the swimsuit-clad kids weren’t able to cool off in Chautauqua Lake.

That’s because there was a suspected bloom of toxic blue-green algae discovered Friday morning in their swimming area.

“Most of them like to stay in the shallow end and that’s where it’s the worst,” Card said.

The decision to close Lakewood Beach came early Friday, shortly after lifeguard Jordan Powers arrived and recognized quarter-sized floating blobs on the surface of the water within the roped-off swimming areas.

“It was like clumps of neon-greenish – it looked like paint,” said Powers. “When we see it, we call the health department.”

It’s nothing new to this part of Chautauqua Lake, or in some other pockets near Bemus Point or Long Point State Park, said Mark Stow, Chautauqua County’s director of environmental health services. Stow said toxic blue-green algae began cropping up in small localized blooms about four years ago.

The county health department monitors the conditions daily and makes the decision to close a swimming area – like Lakewood Beach – when conditions warrant.

August is typically the time of year when the algae starts cropping up more frequently. The water is usually warmer and ripe for brewing algal growth that is fed by high phosphorous and other nutrients in the water.

The Busti-Lakewood recreation program runs 10 hours a day Monday through Friday. The day can get pretty long – and warm – at this time of year, especially when the swimming area is off-limits.

“On not good days, we pull out the hose and play out here,” Pascarella said, pointing to the beach.

By mid-afternoon Friday, a breeze and some wave action on the lake seemed to break up most of the bloom near Lakewood, but the county and the recreation crew weren’t taking any chances.

“It’s not worth the risk,” Card said.

Exposure to toxic algae can cause nerve, liver or skin damage. No one in the recreation department has been hurt.

Chautauqua Lake and the Allegheny Reservoir are the two local bodies of water currently affected by toxic algae, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s latest weekly update that was released Friday. They make up a list of two dozen afflicted bodies of water statewide.

No reports of toxic algae have been found on Lake Erie’s New York shorelines. However, it began to surface in typically prone areas in western Ohio near Toledo late last month.

Besides the suspected blooms on Chautauqua Lake in Lakewood and near the Bemus Point Casino and Long Point, the DEC reported that a laboratory sample showed there was a confirmed “large localized” bloom in the lake earlier in the week as well.

“I hope they find ways to fix it,” said Val Johnson, a Chautauqua County resident.

Johnson pulled her kayak out of the water near the DEC’s launch near the Bemus Point Casino, just feet away from a slick of a substance that looked like light-green paint that had washed up. Johnson said she enjoys kayaking in Chautauqua Lake, but is often forced to find other locations like the Kinzua Dam area or Lower Niagara River near Youngstown because of the proliferation of algae – benign and toxic.

“It’s happening earlier every year,” said Johnson. “It’s too bad. Our area is what it is because of the lake.

“I’m going to go home and wash very well.”