For years, potentially harmful algae have been growing in Lake Elizabeth at Pendleton King Park, depleting oxygen and threatening a fish kill.
Now, in a move that could provide lessons for communities across the state, Augusta is taking steps to restore Lake Elizabeth’s ecological balance.
The Pendleton King Park Foundation Board has secured $50,000 in federal grant money to improve water quality at the popular fishing pond on Augusta’s south side, the Southeastern Natural Sciences Academy at Phinizy Swamp announced Monday.
Officials said funding will go toward building a waterfall and expanding wetlands around Lake Elizabeth to soak up – and filter out – excessive deposits of nitrogen and phosphorous that have surfaced at the park.
“Our sort of working theory right now is that there is an overabundance of nutrients in Lake Elizabeth,” said Shawn Rosenquist, the research scientist overseeing the project for the Southeastern Natural Sciences Academy. “What we want is a higher and more stable concentration of oxygen in the water and we feel like we have the opportunity to make that happen.”
Rosenquist said his team continues to monitor and assess water quality at the lake to determine the source of increased phosphorous and nitrogen levels.
Restoration efforts will commence next spring, Rosenquist said, . The marshland will filter out contaminating elements and return aerated streams of purified water to the lake through a 5-foot waterfall.
“This lake is going to be a more attractive place for our residents,” said Jim Blount, the president of the Pendleton King Park Foundation Board. “The overall health and look of the park will improve. We are excited to see the final result.”
Though algae are important to freshwater ecosystems, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that potentially harmful algae blooms can occur in natural waters used for drinking and recreation.
Also, certain types of microscopic algae grow quickly in water, often in response to changes in levels of chemicals.
The blooms deplete the oxygen and block the sunlight that other organisms need to live, and some produce toxins harmful to the environment, plants, animals and people.
Rosenquist reported no such potential harm for park visitors but said a fish kill is not completely out of the question, especially with hotter weather on the way.
“Algae can go through some pretty rapid growth – both through their own biochemical processes and also through death and decay in the environment – and consume large amounts of oxygen in the water over a short period of time, causing stress or in some cases mortality for fish,” Rosenquist said.
The grant to Pendleton King Park was funded by Wells Fargo and administered through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.