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Dead fish halt State alum application project at White Lake

UPDATE at 12-NOON on Tuesday, May 8th – At the Elizabethtown-White Lake Area Chamber of Commerce Lunch White Lake Mayor, Goldston Womble released the following statement:

White Lake has experienced algae blooms in recent years, and the Town of White Lake has been working to identify why the changes have occurred and what can be done to improve the health of this unique resource that is a critical part of our community and our regional economy.

The Town has been working with lake scientists to understand the causes of the algae blooms as well as assessing the declines in the lake’s lifeblood – its groundwater source.

The algae blooms are essentially controlling the entire lake system. The pH levels have continued to rise, and last week reached levels of 9 and above for sustained periods. This is a threshold of criticality for fish that can prove to be lethal, as we have unfortunately seen.

It is important to understand the ways in which the lake is unique, and one of the most important facts in understanding this system is the very low alkalinity of the water. There is little to no buffering capacity to moderate pH increases.

The only way to control pH increases in White Lake-and we must — is to continue what is already underway – remove nutrients and algae from the water with the alum treatment. We have seen no extreme pH levels in recent days, due to the effects of the treatment and the weather conditions. Things will only continue to improve as more of the treatment is completed.

Please continue to visit the website: www.whitelakealum.com to stay up to date on treatment progress.”

After the press release was distributed, Mayor Womble introduced Diane Lauritsen, a Water Scientist and John Holts with HAB Aquatics.  All said the high pH of the lake is responsible for the fish kill, not the alum treatment. One of the experts said the Town was first notified of dead fish washing up on April 30, 2018 before the treatment began.

“We will have a Town meeting tonight,” Mayor Womble said. He also stated the experts would be going back to his office with him to talk with the state about resuming the alum treatment once they left the Chamber meeting.

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The water at White Lake has been undergoing an alum treatment to try to clarify the water and to lower the presence of algae in the water since last week. The treatments were expected to continue through May 15th, according to a letter sent to the town’s residents in April. However, a fish die-off concerning citizens has deterred the State from continuing the treatment at this time according to Town officials.

Some residents at White Lake have stated a fish kill happens every year. Several residents have stated on social media they think the dead fish are washing ashore because of the lack of oxygen in the water, not the treatment currently taking place. Pam Ramsey, a resident said, “Every year about this time, when temperatures start to rise there is a fish kill at the lake. It has happened every year for at least the past three years.”

Bridget Munger, with the Department of Environmental Quality, said state officials first learned of the fish kill on Friday. She said a team from the Division of Water Quality was at White Lake on Monday performing field testing on water samples which included the dissolved oxygen levels. Munger said what the team had found as of Monday afternoon is the ph levels and oxygen levels were slightly elevated for the lake. Munger said this means the ph levels and oxygen levels were higher than one would expect to see for a lake of this size.

The team from the Division of Water Quality was also collecting water samples and dead fish to bring back to the lab in Raleigh for further testing, added Munger.

A press release from Goldston Womble, Mayor of the Town of White Lake stated late Monday evening, “The Town of White Lake was notified by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) that the alum application project at White Lake has been temporarily suspended. The presence of dead fish in the lake was reported to the State on Thursday, May 3rd and State staff visited the lake today, May 7th. Their testing demonstrated that the alum application was in compliance with the conditions set forth by the State in the permit they issued for the project. Careful testing was occurring during the application (as required by the permit) to confirm alum application compliance. They are not attributing the dead fish to the alum application. However, in light of concern from the public, DEQ suspended further application while they continue to consider the matter.

White Lake has become a lake out of balance in recent years with algae blooms and regular reports of dead fish.  Dead fish were observed well before the alum application began (as early as April 30th) and the majority of the fish were found outside of the alum application area. It is likely that the fish kill was coincidental with the timing of the alum application and caused by the very high pH levels resulting from the algae bloom.

We look forward to the swift resolution of the State’s concern and for the project to resume.”

Related article:

White Lake efforts to clear discoloration continuing

White Lake begins process to correct discoloration issue

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