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updated: 10/9/2012 9:50 AM

The Beauty and Health of Lake Opeka Restored by Science Students

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  • Concordia University students, under the direction of Dr. Rebecca Trueman, gather the filamentous algae from the surface of Lake Opeka.

      Concordia University students, under the direction of Dr. Rebecca Trueman, gather the filamentous algae from the surface of Lake Opeka.
    Lisa Haring

 
Lisa Haring

This past summer's intense heat and lack of rain have ravaged many of our nation's crops. Homeowners, too, have seen their lawns, gardens, and plants withered by the drought. As temperatures soared, ponds, rivers, and lakes experienced a rise in water temperature and substantial evaporation. The effects of the drought are evident at Lake Opeka where water levels have dropped significantly and the usually submerged aquatic vegetation is readily visible above the water line.

One such plant, the native slender naiad, (Najas flexilis), has been growing at such an alarming rate that it has become difficult for the Des Plaines Yacht Club, and other recreational boaters, to safely navigate the lake. In addition, an excessive amount of filamentous algae has attached itself to the naiad along the shoreline in large floating masses. Filamentous alga cells join to become long chains or filaments that intertwine and form a mat on the surface of the lake that resembles wet wool. Commonly known as pond scum, the algae has no known direct food value to the lake's wildlife.

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The Des Plaines Park District has been monitoring the health of the lake throughout the drought. Beyond cosmetic appearances, the District was concerned that as Fall approached, and this organic material decomposed, it would use up the vital oxygen supply necessary to sustain the aquatic life. "Our desire to restore the lake to its natural beauty, led us to contact Dr. Rebecca Trueman, an expert field biologist and Concordia University Faculty member," said Paul Cathey, Superintendent of Parks and Planning. "Dr. Trueman and her students worked over 200 hours to restore the ecosystem of one of the retention ponds at Prairie Lakes Community Center," said Cathey. "We knew of her expertise and her desire to offer her students the opportunity to put into practice the skills they learned in the classroom."

Dr. Trueman and her students have spent over 460 man-hours removing the submerged and surface vegetation. "The growth of these native plants is an indication of the Des Plaines Park District's excellent ecological management of their adjacent Lake Park Golf Course, in addition to the lack of precipitation," Trueman said. "Beyond the beautification of the lake, the students are learning skills germane to the course of their study. They are also a great example to the community of the value of a science based education," she said.

The effects of the students' efforts are readily visible. Along the north and east edge of the lake, the shoreline is clear of plant life. The students will continue around to the southern end, weather and school schedules permitting. "This project is a wonderful example of how community expertise can bring about positive change," Cathey concluded.

For more information about the Prairie Lakes Community Center Ecology Project, visit www.DPParks.org.

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