Since 1996, when the lakes at Green Valley Park first became operational, 82-year-old Gaither Paul has gotten his daily exercise by walking through the park. He's enjoyed walking by the lakes, but lately, he said, he's noticed a growing problem.
Paul was at the park Friday, looking out at the large buildup of yellow-green algae on the eastern-most lake. "I knew this was going to happen," he said.
Paul recalled a time when he was a boy, swimming in a water-filled gravel pit, and how, when the water didn't move, the algae grew. Then it was easy to just scrape it off the top, he said.
Payson Town Water Specialist Karen Probert told Paul that the lakes at Green Valley Park are different; they are used to recharge the water and put it back into the ground. She said the town is looking at what may be a long-term solution to the algae problem -- one that works from bottom to top, and prevents buildup on the bottom.
It's not the first time the town has tried to tackle the problem, she said.
The Payson Water Department, which manages the lakes at the park, has been using a natural product for two years.
"The first year, when the park was new, we didn't anticipate the need to use algae control products," she said.
The second year the lakes were in operation the town purchased aerators. When town staff noticed the algae beginning to accumulate, they began the biologic treatments. "What we've been using is a mix of different bacteria that acts to tie up the growth of the algae, but we want to try to work with a product that will work more," she said.
"We asked this company to set up a demonstration for us. It's for the entire year, so we can look at it as the seasons change."
The experiment began June 16, when the company, Bac-Terra Fifco of California, put the first application of the naturally occurring organic material in the lake off Main Street, east of Green Valley Parkway. Probert said because it's a natural product that uses a blend of microbes custom-blended specifically for small lakes, it's safe for plants, animals and aquatic life.
But she said she understands that what may be a solution for the algae in the lakes is not without its problems.
"People who live by the lake are concerned," she said, "but we need to leave the algae here to put it to the test and see what the product will do."
The town has received reports of an odor that accompanies the new product. "It's a grassy and organic odor that people notice," she said. "It happens when the wind blows in their direction and through their swamp coolers.
"When it gets warm and the wind is blowing, they've been finding it pretty objectionable. We know it's not pleasant, but we're really trying to get this resolved."
She said a lot of lakes involved with the Urban Fishing Program have had similar problems. Algae uses oxygen, but the aerators that are in place in all three lakes at Green Valley Park help put oxygen back in. The town continually measures the lakes for oxygen, pH balance, and nutrients, and has used copper sulfate to get rid of the algae --a method that is employed by some other cities and towns.
But over time, the copper sulfate has a tendency to accumulate on the bottom. Probert said the accumulation will eventually act to keep the water from being recharged back into the ground.
Only the tiny east lake is being tested with the new product, but the main lake and the other small lake are being sampled. The results are being compared and the town is documenting the algae by using photographs. In a year's time, Probert said the town should know if the experimental product is going to work. If it works, the product will be used in all three lakes.
Solution may take two weeks
But how long will it take to clean up what has become an unsightly problem at Green Valley Park?
"We're hoping to see this clear up in the next two weeks," Probert said Friday.
The cost to the town for the experimental program was $2,500, but there's no information available presently on how much the product would cost over the long run. "We'll have to work with them and see if it's cost effective for us," she said.
"The product works from the bottom up. We've already seen some changes at the bottom of the lake. The manufacturer said it's only a matter of time before we see the entire lake clear up."
Right now, people only see the algae on top of the lake and, like Paul, they're concerned.
John Lear, a resident of the nearby townhouses, came over to talk to Probert and to find out what's happening with the lake right outside his window.
"A lot of people in the townhouses are wondering what's going on," he said. "Every night, we come out here and walk and see people enjoying this, fishing and walking around."
Both Paul and Lear said they still enjoy the lake, but they have a growing concern about the algae, how it looks, and what it will do to the lakes they've come to enjoy.
"We're concerned about it, too," Probert said. "We want to make sure this is a nice place to come and visit. We want the public to understand that the town is working to keep the lake free of algae. We're working hard to find a long-term solution."