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Algae is Turning Torch Lake Brown, New Effort Hopes to Solve Issue


Local researchers are trying to answer a question they’ve been studying for years: what’s causing the algae growing in Torch Lake?

A new effort between researchers from local conservation groups and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) are trying to figure out what’s allowing the algae to grow and what they can do to stop it.

Three Lakes Association Executive Director Jeanie Williams noticed the water beginning to take on a darker hue almost a decade ago.

“Right around 2012, that’s when we were starting to feel like, something’s different here this doesn’t seem right,” Williams admits. “The color of the water is different. If you’ve ever been to torch lake it’s just an unbelievable color. So, to have it turn kind of brown is a little disappointing.”

Torch Lake water researchers say Golden Brown Algae is to blame.

“One of the things we’ve learned is the composition of the algae species. We’re comparing the compositions to other regions and other lakes to get a sense of is this the same as what’s happening in other place. So, we have a comparative, or is it very different,” Williams says.

Researchers at Three Lakes Association have spent seven years figuring out the algae is growing due to additional nutrients getting in the water. However, they’re not sure if those nutrients are coming from streams or surface water.

“Then we would expect the algae to be throughout the water column. So, we would expect the water to get a little cloudier a little greener, but that’s not what’s happening,” Williams explains.

So, researchers are kind of stumped and say it could take at least a decade before Torch Lake’s color returns to the bright blue color people remember. Williams says they have new information to consider, but says they’re not going back to the drawing board.

“I don’t think it’s back to the drawing board in anyway shape or form. It’s building on what we already know. As we learn more information, what we already know may reveal even more insights,” Williams states.

The newly formed collaborative includes local conservation groups like Torch Lake Protection Alliance, Torch Conservation Center and Three Lakes Association.

“By making it more of a collaborative effort it gives us more opportunity to bring in people from other directions in order to help think about how to solve the problem,” Williams says.

Tom Joseph is a member of the Torch Lake Protection Alliance and has lived on torch lake for over 25 years. He says it’s disappointing to see the bright blue water slowly changing to a darker hue.

“We bought this place in 1996 and for many years when we took the dock out and the lifts for the boats and the PWCs. When we took them out, they looked just as clean as when we put them in. And as you can see now, it’s already starting to build up,” Joseph explains.

And while he knows it could take them years to return Torch Lake to the color it once was., he says he hopes they’re able to figure it out for the next generation.

“I’m at the stage of my life where I’ve already been blessed very much. I’ve had many good years here, but I have grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and I want them to be able through their lifetime to enjoy this,” Joseph says.

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