WHITE LAKE, NC (WECT) - The NC Division of Water Quality has halted chemical treatment of algae growth at White Lake after scores of fish recently washed up dead.
The decision comes after a team of biologists from the NC Department of Environmental Quality were dispatched to the lake Monday morning after receiving reports of the dead fish washing ashore at White Lake.
According to a letter posted on the Town of White Lake's website, Mayor H. Goldston Womble Jr. said the town received approval from the state on April 11 to apply a low-dose aluminum sulfate treatment to the lake to improve water clarity and reduce the pH level.
A caution sign posted at White Lake indicates the treatment began on May 2 and was expected to continue until May 15. The sign also warns people to avoid the areas that are currently being treated.
While Womble's letter stresses the alum-treatment is safe and is used to treat bodies of water, the issue is raising concerns with residents who have documented a large number of dead fish washed up along the lake shoreline.
Bridget Munger, a spokesperson for the DEQ, said some of the fish the team observed were substantially decomposed and it's unclear when they started dying.
"Our team took water samples. They took fish samples they have brought to the Raleigh lab for analysis to see what we can learn from that," Munger said. "We also took field parameter testings, testing oxygen, pH, temperature, etc...they did notice the pH and dissolved oxygen levels were elevated. We don't know yet if it is a direct link to the alum."
Around 5:30 p.m., state officials decided to halt all alum-treatment operations at the lake until further notice.
Womble said in a statement that fish were dying "well before the alum application began" and added high pH levels resulting from an algae bloom combined with the alum application likely caused the fish to die.
"White Lake has become a lake out of balance in recent years with algae blooms and regular reports of dead fish," Womble said. "The majority of the fish were found outside of the alum application area."
DEQ officials are not saying the alum treatment is the sole reason for the dead fish, according to Womble, but because of concern from the public, DEQ suspended the alum application, which Womble added "was in compliance with the conditions set forth by the state in the permit they issued for the project."
A White Lake resident said the time his family spends at the lake is different now.
"It's really concerning," said Matthew Needham. "Any other time, I would let my youngun come play with the ducks. I won't let him play with them or get in the water."
With the town's annual water festival coming up in two weeks, another resident questioned the lake's safety.
"I don't think too many people are gonna come down here and everyone wants to know if this is safe for humans to get into," said Will Mixon.