CARBONDALE, IL (KFVS) - Southern Illinois University has started siphoning Campus Lake to combat dangerously high levels of toxic bacteria and algae.
The lake was closed for recreational activities on June 23, as it has been for the last several years.
Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance Kevin Bame said animals were far more susceptible than humans, but the water could still cause minor skin irritation and is not considered safe for consumption.
Bame said the goal is to drop lake levels about eight feet to reveal an estimated 23-24,000 tons of organic matter.
"We have researched all sorts of options over the past several years on how to properly address this issue," Bame said. "The consensus is that this will be safer than chemical treatment, and cheaper than a few other options. This isn't a permanent fix, but it should make sure that we're covered for the foreseeable future."
SIU Campus Lake is a man-made body of water, like many across Illinois, according to SIU researcher Dr. Marjorie Brooks.
It was last dredged in 1957 when the university raised the lake's dam and increased the size of its footprint.
Since the lake has no naturally occurring system through which to flush decomposing materials, those materials have built up over the past 59 years.
Brooks says there's enough of that material in the lake now to perpetuate algae blooms for the next 18 to 50 years.
"There was a naturally occurring tipping a point for the bacteria and organic buildup in this lake which started a perfect storm," Brooks explained. "There's nitrogen and things that normally act as fertilizer… good things. But so much of it has built up, it's allowed toxic bacteria to flourish."
The process will cost the university around $350,000, depending on how much excess organic matter is revealed after the water level is dropped.
The material will be transported for use on private land, which has been certified an appropriate disposal by the US Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA.
The siphoning process is expected to last a month.
See below for more information into Campus Lake.