BY PAUL BICKLEY
Bloomington resident and retired hydrologist Sherry Mitchell-Bruker had a troubled day of kayaking on Lake Monroe several years ago. “I saw blue-green algae in the water and litter along the shore,” she says. “At that time, the community was already concerned about phosphorous levels in the lake, so it seemed like the right time to start a group.” Mitchell-Bruker founded Friends of Lake Monroe in 2016.
Now at 40 members, the group of students, retirees, and citizen scientists holds bimonthly meetings at the Monroe County Public Library (MCPL) to plan shoreline cleanups and clean-water educational programs.
Mitchell-Bruker says blue-green algae blooms—actually large clusters of naturally occurring cyanobacteria—are toxic and can cause rashes upon contact, and the blooms can cause cancer, kidney, and neurological damage if ingested. Looking like pools of spilled blue-green paint, they develop over the summer in calm lakes that get a lot of sunshine and have high levels of phosphorous, a component of lawn and farm fertilizers. Mitchell-Bruker says Lake Monroe also contains enough mercury from coal-fired power plants to warrant fish-consumption advisories. In fact, because of its algae blooms and mercury levels, Lake Monroe has been added to a federal list of waterbodies violating the Clean Water Act. Currently, both are at low-violation levels.
Friends of Lake Monroe and Mitchell-Bruker, who earned a Ph.D. in hydrology from the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs, have applied for an EPA grant through the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to hire a watershed manager who would devise a watershed plan. Mitchell-Bruker says that learning stakeholders’ concerns and collecting data throughout the watershed, which includes parts of Monroe, Brown, Jackson, and Lawrence counties, would be initial steps. She has spoken before area officials and appeared on TV news programs to garner support for the grant application. The group should learn in the spring whether it has won the grant and would receive funds in the fall.
“I feel that we’ve made tremendous progress,” Mitchell-Bruker says. “With the level of support we’ve gotten and the importance of the resource, I’d be surprised if we didn’t get the grant.”
Friends of Lake Monroe seeks volunteers for major fundraising, social media applications, event coordination, and data collection. For more information, visit friendsoflakemonroe.org.