White Lake hosts small festival crowd, spars with state over the lake

By: Chrysta Carroll - Bladen Journal

WHITE LAKE — The town of White Lake can’t seem to catch a break.

This weekend, the town hosted the 40th annual White Lake Water Festival, but, in addition to the rain that dominated the the event and contributed to the smallest crowd ever — according to some who attended — the festivities were marred by the ongoing drama with the state of North Carolina over the quality and treatment of the lake’s health.

In a letter dated May 1, the Water Sciences Section of the Division of Water Resources of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality informed the LIMNOSCIENCES company approval had been granted to use liquid aluminum sulfate in White Lake. The town had requested permission for the treatment in order to address water quality and clarity issues believed to be caused by a spike in pH.

The town began treatment on May 3, under a Florida company tasked with the $522,000 job. White Lake Mayor Goldston Womble informed the Elizabethtown Town Council recently HAB Aquatic Solutions, LLC was the best in the country at aluminum sulfate treatment.

On May 8, following a massive fish kill, the state ordered the treatment suspended until necropsies could be performed on the dead fish. A total of 16 fish were submitted to Mac Law, Professor of Pathology at the N.C. State University School of Veterinary Medicine for necropsy.

A letter to Womble on May 10 from Jim Gregson, interim deputy director of the Division of Water Resources, gave permission for the treatment to continue, saying “it appears that fish mortality may not be a direct result of the alum treatment but possibly be the result of the ongoing algal bloom in the lake and associated elevated pH in the water column. Based on the timing of the fish kill, it is possible that the alum treatment placed additional stress on the already impacted fish but no confirmation of this was evident in the data.”

The Division approved resumption of the treatment provided the alum dosage remained below 9.8 mg/l and Division of Water Resources staff would be able to be present for the remainder of the treatment to collect additional data and monitor fish.

The treatment resumed, and, on May 15, the town of White Lake issued a press release addressing the temporary cessation of alum, the conclusion of the treatment, and the safety of the water in time for the White Lake Water Festival.

Regarding the fish kill, town officials said an “algal bloom was already underway as HAB began their work and the bloom resulted in a very rapid increase in the lake’s pH levels.”

The statement went on to say “state scientists quickly determined that the alum did not cause the fish kill” and “state officials detailed how scientists had reviewed the fish necropsy results, as well as data from water quality samples, and concluded the fish did not die due to the alum treatment but because of the algal bloom.”’

The town further alleged that “if alum had been the problem, more fish would have been killed as the treatment continued.”

However, a necropsy report dated May 15 written by Law found that “combined with the stresses caused by probable wide fluctuations in dissolved oxygen due to the algal bloom, it is possible that acute exposure to Alum in this case was a cause of this multi-species fish kill in White Lake.”

It is not known at what point the necropsy report was made available to town staff.

On May 16, Gregson, on behalf of the Division of Water Quality, issued a letter to Womble to “correct several inaccurate or misleading statements” from the town’s press release after the treatment was completed.

The first involved a statement from the town saying state officials had declared the water safe for swimming. DWR staff, the letter said, do not provide public advisories for swimming. Rather, it issues statements advising the public to avoid scummy or discolored water or areas during a fish kill, the latter of which the Division did, in fact, in a press release following the fish kill. The letter also takes issue with the town’s claim that “five years of testing and studies have provided little information …” and details the data that has been procured to date.

The letter further takes issue with the statement that the fish did not die due to the alum treatment and cites the necropsy report.

Town representatives are not backing down.

“We stand by the statement we made earlier this week,” said Mike McGill, president of WaterPIO, speaking on behalf of White Lake on May 18. “We do not understand the state’s comments about swimming advisories. In our statement, we did not say that the state had issued a swimming advisory …”

McGill also noted the alum treatment has decreased pH levels and resulted in improved clarity, and no additional fish mortality has been observed.

According to McGill, the algal bloom was noted in late April, along with minor fish mortality. Wide-spread fish mortality was noted by town staff on May 3.

“It is important to note the fish kill was (not) found near the area of the alum treatment, which began on that same date,” McGill said.

Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or emailing ccarroll@bladenjournal.com.

Chrysta Carroll

Bladen Journal