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Eliminating Algae from your lake or pond


It seems every Spring through Fall you see it; out on your pond or lake that earlier had been the perfect Norman Rockwell painting is now a prominent green apron of something that doesn’t quite look right. Closer inspection indicates it is not a vegetative (plant-like) growth but rather a mat of some of the most foul smelling and slimy “Exorcist-like” stuff you have ever seen. Welcome to the Algae Zone.

Getting rid of algae


A point-of-fact is that Algae is a generalized term that attempts to describe a very broad group of organisms that all have their own distinctive characteristics. There are literally, thousands of different algal species. Trying to identify them has gone from some basic picture-and-key identification to genome DNA / RNA microscopy that would make Sherlock Holmes sweat. Without getting into the boring specifics, there is one major characteristic that is quite interesting and that is many of the algal organisms exhibit signs of being just like bacteria. You know, the bacteria that you are constantly cleaning from the counter surfaces in the home kitchen or the bathroom…those bacteria.

As everyone who is reading this surely remembers from their High School Biology class that stimulating subject entitled the ‘Hierarchal System of Biological Classification’, which is as follows: Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus and Species. Put another way: King Phillip Crossed Over France Going South.

So now you’re thinking to yourself, ‘why did I just have a Biology lesson?’ The short answer is…. “I just tricked you.” The long answer is that you’ll recall from the previous paragraph that some Algae exhibit signs of being just like bacteria. In fact, one of the largest groups of Algae that plague your lake and pond water with algal blooms is the Blue-Green Algae that is now referred to as Cyanobacteria and is classified in the Bacteria Phylum.

Now we can get back to your Norman Rockwell painting turned-nightmare and start figuring out how to deal with the icky mess. As far as you are concerned, whether it is plant, animal, bacteria or mineral; you want this ugly, slimy mess gone. In the home kitchen or the bathroom you may reach for a typical cleaner which probably contains bleach. While it does a good job in the house, bleach is not very eco-friendly and the ‘alphabet-soup police’ (e.g., EPA, DCR, F&W, etc.) tend to frown on its use in the environment. Long gone are the days that the universal curatives of Bleach, Kerosene or Diesel antidotes that would do the trick.

Today, we call upon the EPA to regulate the chemical agents that can be used in the environment where they have little to measured impact on the overall ecology. Any pesticides/herbicides used in or near the water must have an aquatics rating as certified by the EPA along with their registered number given to that product. A label of directions and limitations is attached to that product and this is how the chemical must be used. All applicators-for-hire must follow the label and its directions.
So now you have a huge algal bloom on your pond. The good news here is that algae can be controlled with some proper management techniques. One of the techniques is the use of an algaecide. It must be properly applied to be effective. Also, since algae forms the basis of a very complex food chain, the idea is not to eradicate it but to control it and keep it from forming the ugly mats or blooms.

Control of algae is temporary at best. Just as in your home kitchen or bath where the right conditions favor a problem waiting to happen and, without constant attention you must constantly clean the same thing is true in the environment. There are always plenty of the right conditions (sunlight, temperature, nutrients) available during most of the year and hence, plenty of opportunities for the blooms.

One of the main reasons that algae are so prolific is that unlike the complex reproductive structures of land plants, algae follow the quick regenerative properties of bacteria. This allows them to be the food basis for the ecology they support as well as being the pesky problem that plagues your house or your pond.

As mentioned earlier, one technique to control algae is the use of chemical algaecides. Copper, in some form (compound or chelated), is the active ingredient used in algaecides. EPA has determined through years of study that the levels of copper used according to label rates are safe for the environment. But algae, like bacteria, also respond to other stimulus for control. Another technique for control is aeration. A well planned and properly sized aeration system (either fountain-style or sub-surface bubblers) is also an excellent technique for controlling algae.

Just because you have an aeration system doesn’t mean you’ll never have an algal bloom. Remember, we are dealing with something on Mother Nature’s time frame. She has all the time in the world and the patience of a Saint; when time and conditions are right….. In having a proper aeration system designed for your water body, it helps in producing a favorable climate for another type of bacteria; the aerobic bacteria. These are the ‘good guys’ that circulate throughout the water consuming the nutrients while not producing a bloom byproduct. The idea is the aerobic bacteria out-compete the algae for the food source. Reduced food; reduced algal blooms.

Oftentimes, however, algae are seen as the problem but in fact, the real problem may be a dense undergrowth of some type of aquatic vegetation (weeds). The weeds grow so thick that their tips lay along the water surface and serve as a platform for the algae to thrive. The algae then grow thick enough to mask the underlying problem. This fools many do-it-yourselfer’s into committing their time and resource on treating a symptom and not the problem.

Treatment of the afore-mentioned problem is food for another article on another day.

Steve Weekly
Aquatic Biologist
ARM, Inc.

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thanks for information….

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