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NC says town with popular lake misled public over cause of fish kill

White Lake was treated with alum by HAB Aquatic Solutions, LLC
White Lake was treated with alum by HAB Aquatic Solutions, LLC Screencapture from Instagram

A top North Carolina water quality chief said the town of White Lake misled the public over the cause of a massive fish kill in its popular fishing and swimming lake this month.

The town announced this week that an algae bloom killed the fish in the 1,200-acre natural lake, not the chemical used to treat the outbreak.

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In a news release on its website, the town said state officials made the finding after studying the brains of some of the dead fish. The bloom caused high pH levels that led to the deaths, the state told White Lake, according to the town's statement. Officials also took and reviewed water samples before concluding that the bloom was the culprit, the town said.

"Lake safe for swimming, all other public use;" read the headline on the town news release Tuesday. "State confirms alum unrelated to fish kill; Treatment to reduce algal blooms completed."

Jim Gregson, deputy director of the N.C. Division of Water Resources, wrote the town's mayor this week asking the town to correct its statement.

Combined with "stresses" placed on the fish from low oxygen levels caused by the algae bloom, "it is possible that acute exposure to Alum (the chemical) was a cause of this multi-species fish kill," Gregson wrote to Mayor Goldston Womble Jr.

Mike McGill, a public relations consultant hired by the town, said the town doesn't understand why Gregson would say that, especially after Gregson told the town last week that the chemical wasn't to blame and that it was OK for the town to resume the treatment.

No fish have died since the town resumed and completed the treatment, McGill told the Observer on Thursday night. Water clarity has improved, and the algae has been reduced, he said.

The town completed the treatment in time for its 40th annual White Lake Water Festival on Friday and Saturday.

Gregson also said the state has issued no swimming advisories for the lake. That's up to a county health department and a town, he said. His division does issue statements advising the public to avoid "scummy" and "discolored" areas and where fish have died.

Joe Marusak: 704-358-5067; @jmarusak