What’s up with the water? Understanding water quality and recreational programs

Summit Metro Parks
4 min readMay 29, 2024


Reyna Askew, Community Engagement manager

Photo of Silver Creek Lake by Sheila Stransky

On a mid-summer day, the sun shines down to warm your skin, the air is hot, and you can hear birds chirping through your bedroom window. Summer is calling, and it is time to go outdoors to enjoy some of your favorite watersports. You grab your water shoes, sunscreen and big hat in preparation for your Summit Metro Parks kayaking program. Alas, you receive an email notification that you cannot paddle on the water today at Silver Creek Metro Park due to a harmful algal bloom (HAB). You wonder, “What is an algal bloom, and why is this happening in our parks?”

What is an HAB, and why isn’t it safe to paddle during one?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), harmful algae and cyanobacteria, sometimes called blue-green algae, can produce toxins harmful to people, pets, livestock, wildlife and the environment. While algae and cyanobacteria do occur naturally in bodies of water like lakes, rivers and oceans, they become harmful when they grow uncontrollably, otherwise known as a bloom.

A harmful algal bloom on Silver Creek Lake. HABs may vary in appearance.

Going into water during an HAB or ingesting contaminated water can cause negative health effects, including illnesses ranging from mild to life threatening depending on the length of exposure and level of toxins in the water. Protect yourself, your family and your pets by staying out of water that looks discolored, scummy or smelly, and by recognizing the symptoms of related illnesses. Always keep dogs on a leash and be mindful around potentially contaminated water as it takes much less exposure to the toxic cyanobacteria to harm pets than humans, and they are much more likely to ingest contaminated water if given access. If your pet is showing signs or symptoms of illness following exposure to an HAB, call your veterinarian right away, as their illness may be life-threatening.

What causes HABs?

Algal blooms are fueled by warm water temperatures, slow moving water and an overabundance of nutrients in the water, especially nitrogen and phosphorous.

High levels of nutrients persist in many bodies of water in the Great Lakes region. When it rains, materials including fertilizers, sewage overflows and other run-off are washed away from their original sites and travel through streams and rivers to our lakes and other large bodies of water. According to the Izaak Walton Foundation, “while failing septic tanks, overflowing sewers, sewage treatment deficiencies and excess use of lawn fertilizer account for some of this nutrient pollution, most of it — 85 percent or more depending on the location — comes from agricultural runoff.” Additionally, waste from animals like our pets or large populations of resident Canada geese can also contribute to the overabundance of nutrients in our lakes.

Lakes in the Metro Parks are no exception and can experience high levels of nutrient pollution washed in from surrounding areas. Over the past several years, many of the park district’s water programs, including kayaking, paddleboarding and dog swim, have been canceled or relocated due to HABs. Metro Parks staff continually monitor water conditions throughout the summer recreation season, posting warnings and adapting programs as needed when a lake is affected.

Unfortunately, the occurrence of HABs is expected to increase in the future due to warmer water and more intense rainstorms brought on by climate change. This could lead to even more severe impacts on the environment and make it harder for us to enjoy the water in our beloved parks.

Growing a Wild Back Yard is a great way to support our local waterways. Photo by Mikaila Odell

What can we do to preserve water quality in Summit Metro Parks and surrounding areas?

Small steps at home can have a big impact on the local ecosystem. Here’s what you can do help prevent HABs:

  • Reduce or eliminate your application of lawn fertilizers, and never apply fertilizer directly before rainfall.
  • Reduce the size of your lawn by replacing it with deep rooted native plants to help soak up rainwater and reduce run-off before it leaves your property. Remember, native plants don’t require fertilizer to thrive!
  • Scoop the poop! Always bag and trash pet waste, as leaving it negatively impacts the surrounding environment and can spread disease.
  • Install rain barrels to capture and reuse rainwater on your property, rather than allowing it to run off.

Growing a Wild Back Yard is a great way to support local ecosystems. For more information on these and other practices, visit our website.



Summit Metro Parks

Summit Metro Parks manages 15,000 acres, 16 parks, three nature centers and more than 150 miles of trails. Find more at www.summitmetroparks.org.