The Water Drop and Lake Monitor 

A Ferrum College & Smith Mountain Lake Association Newsletter

July 2023, Volume 37, Issue 3

Edited by Riley Hines

Gael Chaney (left) and Joe Presinzano take a Secchi depth reading on bacterial sampling number four. Bob Pohlad photograph

Gael Chaney (left) and Joe Presinzano take a Secchi depth reading on bacterial sampling number four. Dr. Bob Pohlad photograph.

2023 Water Quality Updates

As summer comes to an end and the start of classes is swiftly approaching, we are all wishing we could hold on to another week or two of summer. This year has proven itself to be very unique. We have faced and solved many challenges in the lab or on the boat. The large increase in harmful algal blooms this summer has kept us on our toes trying to find what has lead to the drastic increase.    

As always, we thank all of our volunteer monitors and the Smith Mountain Lake Association. Without your support this project would not be possible. 

Report Harmful Algal Blooms

VDH reported algal bloom on SML

VDH reported algal bloom on SML

VDH reported Algal Bloom on SML

VDH reported algal bloom on SML

  • Have you seen any strange patches of greenish water? You may have seen an algal bloom.
  • Algal blooms are typically harmless but can potentially contain toxic blue-green algae that can be harmful to both humans and animals.
  • Typically, blooms will appear after heavy rainfall in areas with little to no current, such as far into a cove.
  • Blooms will typically dissipate in a day or two, but we still want to know about them.
  • Please report any algal blooms you see to the VDH website here.
  • If you would like more information about algae blooms and how they form, feel free to check out both the SMLA website and the Virginia Department of Health article about algae blooms.

The Big Four

The big four are the problematic algae of the summer: Anabaena , Microcystis, Woronichia and Aphanizomenon. We find these four to have been the culprits of the majority of harmful algal blooms this summer. All of these are blue-green algae that are often found in nutrient-rich freshwater lakes or rivers. 


Aphanizomenon belongs to the Cyanophyta algal group and is a filamentous blue-green algae that is nitrogen fixing. It is a scum-forming cyanobacteria and in large amounts may produce toxins. Cells of Aphanizomenon are rectangular in shape and link together to form long strands or colonies. In large amounts it may become visible to the naked eye. Blooms often occur during periods of warm weather with a high nutrient concentration in the water.




Woronichinia belongs to Coelosphaeriaceae family. Often coexisting with Dolichospermum, Microcystis and Aphanizomenon, and for these reasons it is not known whether it is a toxin producer or not. Cells of Woronichinia are oval or circular. When looking through a microscope the cells will appear greenish brown in color. Colonies of Woronichinia often also have green algae attached with it.




Dolichospermum (formerly Anabaena) is a cyanobacteria genus that is commonly found in freshwater phytoplankton assemblages. In nutrient-rich lakes it can form dense blooms. Superficially, Dolichospermum and Anabaena look similar, but Dolichospermum can form gas vesicles, making it planktonic. Anabaena never forms gas vesicles and is usually associated with benthic environments. There are many common species of Dolichospermum, and more than one species may be present simultaneously in a toxic cyanobacteria bloom.




Microcystis is a genus of freshwater cyanobacteria that includes the harmful algal bloom-forming Microcystis aeruginosa. Many members of a Microcystis community can produce neurotoxins and hepatotoxins, such as microcystin and cyanopeptolin. Communities are often a mix of toxin-producing and nonproducing isolates.



Aphanizomenon, Wornichinia, Dolichospermum and Microcystis are typically found together in algae blooms. This makes it hard to target a specific culprit in blooms. Aphanizomenon, Dolichospermim and Microcystis all produce a variety of cyanotoxins. These cyanotoxins are most harmful to humans and animals in large amounts.


Dolichospermum (cyanoscope) · INATURALIST. iNaturalist. (n.d.).


Wikimedia Foundation. (2022, July 22). Microcystis. Wikipedia.

Upcoming Events

Water Drop August events calendar

August Events

  • 7/30-8/5: 6th sampling week (white)
  • 8/1: 6th Bacteria Sampling
  • 8/8: 6th Sample pick-up and 6th depth profile
  • 8/25: Junior & Senior Seminar Presentations (end of summer lake presentations) - Ferrum College Garber Hall, Room 106, 11:30 a.m.


Samples can be left at the Smith Mountain Lake Association Office located beside Wake Café on Scruggs Road, Route 834. The entrance is in the back of the building. Contact the Smith Mountain Lake Association at (540) 719-0690 before dropping off samples and notify the Water Quality Lab at (540) 365-4612 or [email protected]. We leave the building by 7:00 am on sampling days. Please call or email prior to the pickup date to ensure we pick up your samples at the correct location.

Lunch on the Lake

Ferrum College SML water quality monitoring team

Dr. Bob Pohlad shared this group photo taken during a recent outing on the lake. He explained, "We met with the two boats that were sampling that day to have lunch at the Virginia Inland Sailing Association Deck. Our college boat team went up the Roanoke River channel and Gael and Sam Easter took their boat and the other team up the Blackwater River channel. We finished about the same time and had a packed lunch together before we headed back to the lab to process samples."

Pictured are (left to right) Carol Love, Dr. Dana Ghioca-Robrecht, Gael Cheny, Chekka Lash, Rylee Smith, Riley Hines, Gale Easter, Joe Presinzano (behind Gale), Bob Pohlad, and Sam Easter.

Frequently Asked Questions


What should I do if I notice anything unusual on the lake such as odd looking algal blooms, fish kill, etc.?


Call the lab at (540) 365-4612 or email [email protected], and we will look into it. You can also contact Tom Hardy at [email protected].


When I’m collecting a water sample , do I take it at the Secchi depth?


No. To take a water sample, double the Secchi depth and take a sample from that depth. This gives us a sample of water from all of the photic zone of the water, with all of the photosynthesizing organisms represented.


I ran out of filters or I lost some bottles. What should I do?


If you have enough bottles to make it through the next sampling, email [email protected] and we will bring you extras on the sample pickup day. If you do not have enough, please email [email protected] or call (540) 365-4612 and we will tell you the best course of action. If no one answers, please leave a message and we will get back to you as soon as we can. Please note: If you use bottles from a different week please be sure to cross off please be sure to cross off the week number and add the actual week of the sample.

Send Us Your Sampling Photos & News

We welcome your water sampling photographs and photos of your water sampling sites for possible use in future newsletters or on our social media sites. We also welcome news and updates of interest to our community. Please email submissions to [email protected].

Monitoring the Waters of Smith Mountain Lake Since 1987

2023 Great Blue Heron Rookery photo by Bob Pohlad

The Smith Mountain Lake Association (SMLA) and Ferrum College have been monitoring the water quality of SML for over 35 years. Each summer, Ferrum College faculty and students, along with SMLA volunteers, monitor the lake water for nutrients, bacteria, and algal blooms. Stakeholders and local health departments use collected data to inform the community of any concerns. Watch the replay of our webinar where the experts teach us about the results of last year’s water monitoring program and plans for the 2023 season.

A Great Blue Heron flies at a Smith Mountain Lake rookery in May 2023. Dr. Bob Pohlad photograph.

Ferrum College Water Quality Lab

80 Wiley Drive

Ferrum, VA 24088

(540) 365-4612 or [email protected]

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