Toxic Algal Blooms: Coming Soon to a Lake Near You

Posted by: Kelsey Schueler

Imagine walking along the shore looking out at your favorite childhood lake. The discolored surface is covered in a thick slime. The smell stings your nose, something between rotting fish and a sewer. You might start coughing, wheezing and feeling short of breath. This is a harmful algal bloom. If you haven’t already experienced one, it’s likely coming soon to a water body near you.

Algal blooms occur naturally and form the base of food webs, but some blooms produce harmful toxins that can kill fish, mammals, and birds, and make humans sick. Examples of harmful algal blooms (HABs) hot spots include the Gulf of Mexico and . However, HABs are increasingly affecting inland lakes and waterways. Thanks to climate change, it will likely get worse. Warmer temperatures, intense storms and decreased water levels all contribute to HABs. Changing are also worsening the problem. According to a joint report from Resource Media and National Wildlife Federation, droughts and warm summers led 20 states to report freshwater HABs in 2012. This summer, a different set of 21 states reported inland HABs.   Unfortunately, these numbers are a major underestimation because there is no federal agency tracking lake closures or health warnings nationally, and not all states report or monitor HABs.

For states tracking HABs, there are irregularities between systems. For example, New York reported 50 cases of HABs this summer. While this was the highest number of HABs recorded in any state, this does not mean that New York has the worst HABs problem. It simply demonstrates that extensive monitoring is required to reveal the severity of the problem.

Most of us don’t give a lot of thought to algae and the impact it’s having on fish, mammals, birds, humans and local economies, but we should. For example:

  • In California, Pinto Lake has some of the nation’s most toxic algae, which poisoned sea otters in the Monterey Bay.
  • Wichita, Kansas has spent several million dollars treating drinking water because elevated levels of HABs are so common.
  • For the first time, Kentucky found HABs in four lakes, which collectively draw over five million visitors.  Visitors have reported rashes and stomach problems.
  • Oregon’s Midsummer Triathlon became a biathlon after Blue Lake was closed due to toxic algae in August
  • In Florida a massive HABs outbreak in St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon is outraging local communities.

We’ve been working hard to pass the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act in Congress.  The HABs bill will develop and implement a national strategy and regional action plans to combat harmful algal blooms in our oceans and waterways.

Date Posted: December 12, 2013 @ 10:59 am Comments Off