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HOOKED ON EAST TEXAS: Excessive heat toughens the battle with algae blooms

Climate change could help to create more algae blooms in the future.

TYLER, Texas — This summer's extreme heat is impacting our health, our homes, and some of our area streams and lakes. 

This week's Hooked On East Texas looks at how warmer summers are a threat to some of our area lakes. And no where is it more evident than in Lufkin at Jones Lake.

You can't miss it. The algae bloom covers half of the 7-acre lake at Jones Park. We met up with Lufkin Parks and Recreation Director Rudy Flores who showed us the growing problem. 

Flores said the bloom began disappearing last Winter but began to grow back this Spring. 

"I would say that in April of this year, we started to see some signs of the algae growing back," Flores said.

So far it's been a two year battle with the bloom. The city tried several ways to get rid of the algae. The city stocked algae eating fish. But the tilapia couldn't eat it all. Aerators and a fountain were installed to circulate the water, create more oxygen and prevent more algae from forming. But the algae clogged the pumps and the water stopped circulating. The city hired a company to remove the algae but it grew back. I asked Flores if this project was frustrating?

"You know, I think it's one of those projects where we wish that we were a little bit more in tune with aquatics where we could go in there physically, and just remove it and be done", Flores said.

Algae blooms happen naturally. Most are harmless but the right combination of warm water, high nutrient levels, and adequate sunshine can cause large blooms like the one at Jones Park.

 Algae blooms block sunlight from reaching the lake's bottom. That chokes out the oxygen that fish, wildlife and plants need to survive. More blooms are occurring globally. Why? 

We asked U-T Tyler Assistant Biology Professor Ryan Shartau. He points to climate change. 

"I think it's definitely playing a big role as the temperatures increased, that promotes algae bloom formation", Shartau explained. 

“Our research so far has told us that the algae bloom really does produce with extreme heat. So, I do believe that it's added to it," Flores said. 

Research by Climate Central , a non-profit group of scientists and journalists, shows East Texas experiences almost two dozen more, warmer than average summer days than we did 50-years ago. 

Shartau said climate change will create more algae blooms in the future and some could be toxic. 

"You have the blue green algae or cyanobacteria, and they produce basically hepatic toxin, which can actually poison the fish", Shartau explains. "You can also have reductions in oxygen levels. So, the algae are not only photosynthesize, or consume CO2, but they also consume oxygen at night for the basically deplete the levels of oxygen in these water bodies, which leaves less oxygen for fish."

Flores tells us the city is working with Stephen F. Austin State University and the Angelina and Neches River Authority. Both are testing the water for the species and source of the Algae. 

Flores said the algae is toxic blue-green but left unchecked it could take over the lake. 

"We have seen through our research that if it's left untreated, it's very possible it's called a turnover of a lake or a pond. And so, it becomes to where it does suffocate the oxygen out of the pond itself," Flores said. 

The city is confident that won't happen. Cooler weather this winter, water testing, and expert advice all go into getting rid of the bloom.

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