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Federal government delays chemical treatment at Lake Mattamuskeet

A shallow area of Lake Mattamuskeet, which averages two to three feet in depth.
Josh Sullivan
A shallow area of Lake Mattamuskeet, which averages two to three feet in depth. Several issues plague the lake, including a decline in water quality that’s led to harmful algal blooms.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has agreed to delay a pilot program that would have applied a chemical treatment to improve water quality at Lake Mattamuskeet as a lawsuit against it continues.

The agency wants to use a chemical called Lake Guard Oxy to reduce harmful algae blooms at Lake Mattamuskeet in eastern North Carolina.

The lake has experienced declining water quality for decades, leading to harmful algal blooms. A proposal would address these algal blooms using a chemical treatment.

The lake's conditions have been deteriorating for decades, with the invasive algae taking over natural aquatic plant life.

But the EPA lists Lake Guard Oxy as harmful to birds. Conservation groups sued the Fish and Wildlife Service, saying the agency failed to prove the chemical would not do irreversible harm.

Lake Mattamuskeet supports osprey and herons year-round as well as migratory ducks, geese and swans.

The groups want Fish and Wildlife to consider other ways to treat the lake.

"For now, we’re all relieved these beloved birds will not be exposed to this toxic chemical this year while the court reviews the legal problems with the rushed and inadequate approval of this dangerous experiment," Ramona McGee, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, said in a statement.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has agreed not to use the chemical until at least April while a judge considers arguments in the lawsuit. The agency has said it does not comment on pending litigation.

Will Michaels is WUNC's Weekend Host and Reporter.