BUCKEYE LAKE — Tracy Wheeler waded waist-deep in the water off Buckeye Lake’s Crystal Beach. A handful of boys splashed in the water near her.

On the shore just a few yards from the waterfront, a red sign jutted out from the ground, reading “DANGER” and “Avoid all contact with the water.”

“I decided to be brave today,” said Wheeler, 55, of Buckeye Lake. “Evidently, nobody minds. It seems like a waste to me that nobody swims.”

Both Crystal Beach and Fairfield Beach at Buckeye Lake are under public health advisories because of high levels of toxic algal blooms, blue-green algae that forms in warm and high-nutrient water and produces harmful toxins. The advisory signs have been posted since May 17.

But many beachgoers are unaware or unfazed by the posted warnings.

Noah Skinner, 13, who lives on the lakefront, said he and his friends still swim because it’s the “only place” to swim that’s open to the public and safe from boats. Still, Noah said the algae is “everywhere” and “disgusting.”

“My friend was grabbing the algae,” he said. “He thinks it’s fun, but me, I’m germaphobic, so I was feeling like I was about to barf.”

Tim Ryan, who also lives on the lakefront and is president of the Buckeye Lake Region Chamber of Commerce, hadn’t heard about the algae advisory, though he said he wasn’t concerned about it. He said it is a personal choice to decide whether to get in the water.

The heavy rainfall in recent weeks increased the nutrients in the water and can propel algae growth, David Roorbach, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said in an emailed statement.

Side effects of coming into contact or swallowing toxin-contaminated water include diarrhea, vomiting, dizziness and death in extreme cases, according to ODNR’s website. Those who think they came into contact with toxic algae should rinse off thoroughly and seek medical care if symptoms develop.

Not all blue-green algae produces toxins, but warnings of high levels of toxic algae are not uncommon at Buckeye Lake, said Matt Baumann, director of Buckeye Lake for Tomorrow, a group dedicated to improving the lake’s water quality. The state drained the lake to an artificially low level five years ago to complete construction on a dam, Baumann said, which created a “sweet spot” for bacterial growth producing the toxic algae. Low water levels allowed water temperatures to increase earlier in the summer, helping the algal blooms to grow.

“The levels went way up in the lake, through no fault of anyone,” Baumann said. “They saved the lake and fixed the dam, but a side effect was the water quality.”

But the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency says the lake has had algal blooms every year since 2010.

The lake is full of sediment rich in phosphorus, which feeds the blue-green algae, Baumann said. The lake holds 5 million cubic yards of sediment that need to be dredged, he said. Buckeye Lake for Tomorrow has been working with state legislators to get the item in the state budget, though because of the expense it was taken out of the budget this year, Baumann said.

Areas of Grand Lake Saint Marys in western Ohio are also under a public health advisory to avoid contact with the lake’s water because of toxic algae.

Water samples must be below the state’s threshold for at least two weeks before the advisory is lifted, Roorbach said.

The warnings are not to be taken lightly, Baumann said.

“Be smart,” Baumann said. “If you have cuts and scrapes, don’t go into the water. You can get a bacterial infection from this stuff.”

cproctor@dispatch.com

@ceproctor23

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