Last summer, those who live and recreate on the Blackwater arm of the lake were affected by a widespread swimming advisory due to what has now become a household term: the Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB). State testing results were slow in coming, and every positive result required another two weeks of waiting for follow up testing. To say we were all frustrated, is an understatement.
In response to this local crisis, the SMLA has formed their new Dock Watch program. With the help of volunteers who live on the lake and are willing to take regular samples in the area surrounding their dock, we will be able to track populations of algae and cyanobacteria and monitor trends if and when blooms reappear. The outpouring of volunteers has been tremendous according to Keri Green, head of the SMLA Lake Quality Council. But they are still looking for participation from docks located in Water's Edge, Bull Run, and the Bedford side surrounding the State Park.
You might be wondering (as I was), “But, SMLA already does regular testing all over the lake…how did this slip through the cracks?” The every-two-week testing cycle, which has been ongoing for over 37 years, is run in partnership with Ferrum College, and will continue. This program, however, draws samples from sites in the main channels of the lake - not along the shorelines and dock waters (which is precisely where the HAB showed up last year). Dock Watch will help fill in those gaps and record potentially harmful phytoplankton across a wider representative set of locations around the lake.
Here is more info from a recent SMLA press release:
Dock Watch Volunteers will be trained to collect water samples and to use laboratory grade microscopes to identify cyanobacteria, take photographs, and upload data to the Phytoplankton Monitoring Network. The data will enhance the national database used to monitor for and research emerging HAB trends. Most importantly on a local level, the Association will be identifying and tracking HAB activity at docks, with rapid results, all year long.
Training for volunteers will happen in late February. By April, Dock Watch locations will be selected, and monitoring will begin at a minimum of five docks around the lake. As SMLA continues to raise money for this program through their Make a SPLASH campaign, they will be able to purchase more equipment, train more volunteers, and expand to more locations around the lake.
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