Local group works to fix Lake Monroe’s water quality issues

MONROE COUNTY, Ind. -- Lake Monroe spans four counties while supplying fun and refreshment to tens of thousands of people.

On its surface, the watershed is 415 square miles, and is a haven for wildlife and a getaway for weekend warriors. But under that surface a murky dilemma awaits.

The lake remains in a recreational advisory as seasonal algae issues continue to plague the waters. One group is working to find a solution to this problem.

“Blue green algae in particular is the algae of concern,” Sherry Mitchell-Bruker said.

Mitchell-Bruker is the founder and President of Friends of Lake Monroe, a group working to reduce the nutrient sources of the algae blooms.

“Farm run-off, urban run-off, septic leachate, or just being carried in on the soil,” Mitchell-Bruker said.

Those nutrients are making their way to the water. The same thing happens in the creeks that feed the reservoir.  As nutrients build up, algae blooms turn the water a greenish tint.

“What we’ve had in the past historically has been these recreational advisories," Mitchell-Bruker said of algae issues. "[People are] advised not to drink the water, and to shower afterwards."

The algae and nutrients cycle through local utilities with the lake supplying water to more than 120,000 people.

“They mix that with chlorine in the disinfection process that can form harmful disinfection byproducts, and those can cause cancer at high levels with long exposures," Mitchell-Bruker said.

She added that local utilities facilities had to alter the process of how they create safe drinking water to reduce the risk.

“In 2016 the annual average was getting too close to the maximum level for comfort for any of us," Mitchell-Bruker said.

Friends of Lake Monroe is being proactive by asking county officials for a watershed management plan and coordinator.  Bloomington and county officials are approving $75,000 dollars toward the cause, with another roughly $100,000 potentially coming from an EPA grant.