Milford Lake closes as toxic algae thrive

Before Labor Day weekend, Kansas' largest lake, Milford Reservoir, is closed because of dangerously high blue-green algae counts.
Before Labor Day weekend, Kansas' largest lake, Milford Reservoir, is closed because of dangerously high blue-green algae counts. File photo

Four days from Labor Day weekend, Kansas' largest lake is closed because of dangerously high blue-green algae counts.

Some areas of Milford Reservoir near Junction City had counts of about 5 million blue-green algae cells per milliliter of lake water, according to Jonathan Larance, Kansas Department of Health and Environment public information officer.

Cell counts of 20,000 bring advisories against drinking or having full contact with lake water. Counts of 100,000 or more bring stronger warnings.

Three dogs have died from ingesting Milford's water, Larance said. Several people have become ill.

"As of right now you can't even fish from the bank," said Brad Roether, owner of a bar and grill, and fishing guide service in Milford. "Nothing is allowed: no boating, no fishing.

" (Last weekend) they had boats with PA systems telling people to get off the lake. Money-wise, it's devastated the lake."

Scott Skucius, Milford State Park natural resources officer, said the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism decided last Friday to close the lake when KDHE reported the record-high counts.

"People aren't happy because they want to have fun, but our main responsibility is to keep people safe," said Skucius.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also wanted the lake closed for safety.

Skucius said the state park is open to camping but no contact with lake water is allowed.

Milford is the only lake totally closed in Kansas, though several others carry blue-green algae warnings.

Locally, that list includes Riggs Park Lake in Haysville, Harvey County East Lake, Augusta City Lake and Dillon Park Lake in Hutchinson.

Algae levels are at advisory levels at Marion County Lake and Cheney Reservoir.

Results from water samples taken Monday at Milford and several other lakes should be public later this week, Larance said. If counts are low enough, the lake may be re-opened.

Blue-green algae produce toxins that can irritate the skin of people and pets. Digested algae can cause serious internal problems.

Summertime blue-green algae outbreaks aren't uncommon in Kansas. This year's outbreaks are especially widespread, long-lasting and serious.

Larance said Milford has dealt with blue-green algae for about six weeks.

"We expect flare-ups when it's hot, but we usually get rain and wind to break up these things," Larance said. "When it's like this summer they just continue to flourish."

This summer has been unusually hot and calm at Milford, Roether said.

"When you drive by the lake in the middle of the afternoon and it looks like glass, that's not good," he said. "What they need to do is open the dam and let a bunch of this water out to get things flowing."

He said Milford's water level is currently about 15 feet above normal thanks to heavy summer rains. Not much water can be released because of high water levels on the Missouri and Mississippi rivers downstream.

At normal levels, Milford Reservoir covers about 16,000 acres. Located near Junction City, Fort Riley and Manhattan, it's one of Kansas' top destinations for campers, boaters and anglers.

Roether said Labor Day weekend is annually one of the busiest times for the lake and nearby businesses.

"We had 58 guys coming in this week to guide fishing but we've had to postpone them," he said. "It's not because of the fishing. The fishing's been just great, really.

"It's hurting everything. Some of the marinas are closed. This has to be really terrible for them."

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