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MATTOON -- Blue-green algae blooms are causing strong odors at Lake Paradise and have prompted the city to switch to using Lake Mattoon to supply its water treatment plant.

City officials have posted notices at Lake Paradise from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency about blue-green algae levels being high this summer in several lakes and rivers. Mattoon Public Works Director Dean Barber said other affected bodies of water include the Illinois River and Rend Lake.

Locally, Barber said recent heavy rainfall has increased the amount of phosphorous and nitrogen that is running off from farm fields into Lake Paradise. He said this runoff has provided more nutrients for algae to consume, which has boosted algae reproduction and caused the blooms.

"We have got a significant algae bloom going on at Lake Paradise," Barber said.

The algae blooms have a strong odor and bright blue-green color. Barber said the city is advising, as a precaution, that people and pets should not swim in Lake Paradise. He said there are no prohibitions on fishing at Lake Paradise, adding that such algae blooms do not cause fish kills.

IEPA reports that only low levels of toxins have been detected so far in Illinois bodes of water, but this can change. Blue-green algae are microscopic organisms that naturally occur in lakes and streams. Rapid growth of algae is referred to as a “bloom.” The IEPA reports that blooms can produce toxic chemicals that cause sickness or other health effects in people and pets, depending on the amount and type of exposure.

"Sensitive individuals, including young children, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems are most at risk. Individuals who have direct skin contact, swallow contaminated water, or inhale water droplets in the air have the potential to experience adverse health effects attributable to algal toxins," IEPA reports.  

IEPA advised people who plan to recreate in or on lakes or rivers this summer to avoid contact with water that has blue-green film or scum on it or just below the surface. People or pets who come in contact with such algae should be rinsed off with clean, fresh water immediately. IEPA also reports that if people catch fish amid algae blooms, they should rinse all fish parts well in tap water before cooking and eating.

Lake Paradise is the city's primary water source. Barber said the city is trying to determine how long the algae blooms there will need to run their course. In the meantime, he said the city has taken the precautionary step of switching to drawing water from its secondary source -- Lake Mattoon. He said 1,050-acre Lake Mattoon, with greater acreage and depth, is more resistant to blooms than 210-acre Lake Paradise.

Fisherman Danniel Hutson of Mattoon said he started seeing blue-green scum at Lake Paradise and smelling an odor like methane in affected areas a few days ago. Hutson, who is a member of the River Rat Campers organization, said he has fished a lot at Lake Paradise over the years, but has never before encountered algae there that smells this strong.

"This has got one hell of an odor," Hutson said as he fished Thursday afternoon along one of the less smelly sections of shoreline.

Lake Paradise residents Don and Kathy Gandy said they started noticing the blue-green scum and an odor like decaying plants last week. Don Gandy said scum has been accumulating along the shoreline next to their boat dock.

"(The odor) is nasty, especially where the wind doesn't catch it and move it around," Don Gandy said. He and his wife added that they have seen less anglers than usual on Lake Paradise recently. Kathy Gandy said fisherman are likely reluctant to get the scum on their boats and clothing.

Contact Rob Stroud at (217) 238-6861. Follow him on Twitter: @RobStroud

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