There’s nothing like being out on the lake in the early morning, watching the sun rise in a blaze of glory, rays illuminating every ripple on the water.
It’s the lovely peace and quiet — and the jumping of large-mouth and spotted bass — that calls Fred Lovelace out of his bed at 4:30 a.m. The serene beauty of Lake Jordan in the morning has long appealed to this Elmore County resident, among many reasons he and his wife, Charlene, chose retirement on the water.
The couple nearly changed their minds about their Lake Jordan home a few short years ago. Their love of the lake was hindered by lyngbya, an unsightly, foul-smelling water algae most often seen on lakes throughout Florida and other parts of the Southeast. Many Alabama waterways, with their swift-running currents, still evade the insidious lyngbya.
“I’ve always been what I’d call a water freak,” says Lovelace, who has lived at Lake Jordan off and on for more than 20 years. “I was here before lyngbya got here, and I wouldn’t let it get the best of me.”
“Alabama has gorgeous lakes,” says Lovelace, who grew up on the banks of Norris Lake in Tennessee and has lived on several other Southeastern shores. “I was fishing at Jordan for 10 years before I moved here. The experience is so unique. A lot of the area is what I consider wilderness, just a beautiful natural area. For fishing and water sports, this area is great.”
Battling the ‘beast of water algae’
Fred Lovelace shows a photo of a lyngbya bloom at his boathouse from 10 years ago. (Ted Tucker)
In 1985, Lovelace bought the Lake Jordan Marina, the area’s only bait and tackle store. He ended up selling the marina, but loved Jordan so much that he bought a lake home in 1991. Life was idyllic until, around 1996, Lovelace discovered lyngbya cropping up in the slough around his property.
“We had sections in here where you couldn’t move through the lyngbya,” says Lovelace, a member of the Lake Jordan Homeowners and Boat Owners (HOBO) association since its founding in 1990. “With the algae, you’d be hard pressed to swim, and if the algae gets into the intake of the motor, you can’t run a boat through it.”
Areas around sloughs, docks and piers are often targeted by lyngbya, which grows in shallow, slow-moving water. The plant has three layers, the first of which usually dies during the first month of summer. The dead lyngbya produces the greenish-brown, musty-smelling mats, sometimes mistaken for sewage. Lovelace first spotted lyngbya on the eastern part of the lake sloughs, which have less water flow.
Almost overnight, the couple turned into an algae cleanup team, working from their 200-square-foot aluminum boat to remove the unattractive “floating carpet” from the slough.
“We’d pull the algae toward us and roll it up,” Lovelace says. “Charlene would hand me one section of algae at a time, and I’d pull it into the boat. It’s about 70 to 80 percent water. I’d squeeze out the water, roll the lyngbya into softballs and put them in seven or eight 5-gallon plastic buckets.
“Over five years, we figured that we removed about 30,000 pounds of the stuff,” he says. “And it doesn’t burn — we tried that. It only dries.”
The couple dumped the lyngbya at a right of way for disposal.
“I’ve seen all kinds of problems on the water, but there ain’t nothin’ that can happen as bad as this,” Lovelace says. “It’s a disgusting thing.”
‘Finally winning the battle’
Environmental Affairs specialist Josh Yerby holds up a handful of lyngbya, a thick, invasive and foul-smelling type of algae. (Ted Tucker)
Lyngbya is nothing new to employees in Alabama Power Environmental Affairs. Company employees have worked to rid lyngbya from lakes Jordan, Lay and Mitchell for more than 25 years, says Wes Anderson, team leader for Environmental Affairs. In 1990, the company called in Clemson University Chairman of Environmental Toxicology John Rodgers to research ways to rid the lakes of the algae.
This renowned chemist is well-acquainted with the notorious water plant.
“I consider lyngbya as being among the top 10 worst natural environmental enemies I’ve seen in my 42-year career,” Rodgers says.
During a five-year study, Rodgers evaluated algaecides and a safe treatment plan to control and kill lyngbya. In October 2004, Rodgers joined Anderson in talks with Lake Jordan HOBO members about future treatments.
Lovelace recalls hearing Rodgers speak at two Jordan HOBO meetings. When Lovelace saw that the algaecide was effective, he became a believer and stopped his lyngbya cleanups.
Anderson and Environmental Affairs Specialist Josh Yerby continue to work with manufacturers in improving treatment options, resulting in significant cost savings and greatly increasing effectiveness and environmental benefits.
“We’ve worked with the algaecide makers and developed best practices for geographic information systems (GIS) to control and kill lyngbya on multiple sites on Jordan, Lay and Mitchell lakes,” says Anderson, who has worked for Alabama Power for 18 years. “We treat the algae on a routine basis, starting in April and continuing once a month for five consecutive months.”
Providing the exact boundaries for vegetation control, Alabama Power pinpoints lyngbya sites using GIS data. The company contracts with vendors to treat the areas.
“Two years ago, we were treating 1,000 acres a year, and we’ve been able to decrease the number to almost half,” Anderson says. “We’re finally winning the battle.”
Fred Lovelace is careful to avoid adding any organic material to Lake Jordan that may promote a lyngbya bloom. (Ted Tucker)
Alabama Power is pleased with the results on its lakes, said Environmental Affairs Supervisor Jason Carlee.
“We’re happy that we’ve found a product that really works,” Carlee says. “I’m very proud of the progress that our aquatic plant management team has made. Control efforts are definitely more effective.”
A happy ending for lake homeowners
With lyngbya under control at Lake Jordan, Lovelace is enjoying his property more than ever. He and his wife are thrilled with Alabama Power’s treatment plan.
Within the first two to three years of treatment, Lovelace could tell that the lyngbya was dissipating. After five years, the lyngbya had mostly disappeared, he says.
“We’ve really seen the benefits,” Lovelace says. “Most of us who live on the lake want to use the water, to ski on it or to fish on it. When you can’t use the water, it becomes useless. I believe that Alabama Power saved Lake Jordan with these treatments.
“This brought our lake back to being one of the most beautiful places on Earth,” he says.