Boat race scheduled to go ahead despite Grand Lake toxins

First Posted: 7/22/2010

CELINA - Although state officials have told people to stay away from algae-plagued Grand Lake St. Marys, the city of Celina is promoting its annual regatta and has hopes that the boat race will attract 30,000 visitors.

The Celina Governor's Cup Regatta is set for Aug. 28-29.

''We're still a month away," said event co-chairman Allen Baskett.

''It would be kind of a knee-jerk reaction to say we're not going to have it."

Event officials say they are relying on water samples the city is taking. Baskett said those samples are showing smaller concentrations of microcystin, a liver toxin produced by algae, than state tests found.

He said this year's speed-boat event is important because Celina is preparing to host the world championship in 2011.

But some critics say bringing anyone to the lake right now is ill-advised.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency issued its sternest warnings of the summer last week against swimming or boating on the water or eating fish caught in the 13,000-acre lake about 100 miles northwest of Columbus.

Manure and fertilizers feed cyanobacteria, also called blue-green algae, which have spread across the lake this summer and last. The agency found microcystin at three test sites around the lake at concentrations 100times higher than what the World Health Organization says is safe for swimmers.

Earlier this summer, residents were warned against swimming, drinking or touching the lake water, which has for years been considered one of the state's most polluted waterways.

Celina Water Superintendent Mike Sudman said the city's water samples, taken at the west end of the lake near the race's 1-mile course, were at much safer levels than what Ohio EPA beach testing found.

Though it's impossible to predict the toxin levels at Grand Lake St. Marys a month from now, scheduling a boat race is a bad idea, said David Culver, an emeritus professor who runs Ohio State University's limnology laboratory and has been a consultant for the state on algae testing.

Blooms are at their worst in July and August, Culver said. "There would still be a heck of a lot of it in August."

During the regatta, the inboard hydroplane boats race across Grand Lake St. Marys at speeds as fast as 150 mph.

''That's going to be lots of splash, lots of contact," he said. "I wouldn't do it at the lake."

Culver said lake testing results can vary greatly based on location, wind speeds and other weather factors.

Each year, Celina invites Ohio's governor to award trophies at the event. Gov. Ted Strickland has yet to attend the regatta and has not made plans yet for next month's, said spokeswoman Amanda Wurst.

Strickland asked the federal government three weeks ago for help with the toxic algae. This week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that it would send $1 million through a program that pays lake-area farmers to cut the flow of manure and fertilizers that run off fields during storms.

The Ohio EPA spent $1 million in April and $1.5 million last year for similar pollution-reducing efforts at the lake.

Agency spokeswoman Heather Lauer said the state plans to continue weekly testing at the lake.

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