State urges Coloradans to be aware, avoid toxic algae — Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment

Here’s the release from the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment (MaryAnn Nason):

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reminds people recreating in Colorado waters to be aware of the potential for toxic algae and take precautions to avoid it. State testing so far this summer has found toxic algae in Prospect Lake in Colorado Springs, Barr Lake, Cherry Creek Reservoir, and Steamboat Lake. It likely is present in other lakes and slow-moving waters as well.

Toxic algae are made up of what many people call blue-green algae or harmful algae blooms. This algae is common and natural to our waters in Colorado, but sometimes it grows and produces toxins that can harm people and be fatal to animals like dogs.

“If you suspect toxic algae is present, do not let your kids, pets, or livestock touch or drink the water — when in doubt, stay out,” said Kristy Richardson, state toxicologist. “If any person or animal has had contact with the water, make sure they shower immediately and watch for symptoms.”

Symptoms for people include skin rash, gastrointestinal upset, fever, headache, sore throat, muscle, and joint pain. Symptoms for pets include vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, abdominal swelling, stumbling, seizures, disorientation, or difficulty breathing. There have been a number of possible cases of toxic algae-associated illness reported to the state this summer.

Only lab tests or test strips can determine if an algae bloom is toxic, but algae that may contain toxins has certain characteristics. It may resemble thick pea soup, spilled paint on the water’s surface, and/or create a thick mat of foam along the shoreline. Toxic algae are typically not stringy or mustard yellow in color (the latter is probably pollen). If you see possible signs of toxic algae:

  • Keep kids and animals out of the water.
  • Don’t swim or wade.
  • Don’t drink the water and know it’s never safe to drink water from lakes or rivers.
  • When boating, avoid the areas with the algae.
  • Clean fish well with potable water, and discard the guts.
  • Contact poison control at 1-800-222-1222, or a health care provider, if people or animals have symptoms.
    Some lake managers test for toxic algae at certain locations and report it to the state. The state takes this information and updates an online dashboard at the end of the season to show historical trends and help raise awareness for the future season. The state encourages other managers of water bodies to also report to the state if they inspect or test for toxic algae.

    “With resources granted by the legislature in 2018, we were able to start a toxic algae program to better understand the problem in Colorado,” said Nicole Rowan, Clean Water Program Manager for the department. “These resources cover testing for just a small portion of Colorado’s lakes and ponds, so we depend on other waterbody managers to be aware and vigilant about this problem.”

    Toxic algae is most common in the hottest months of summer. Excess nutrients, high temperatures, and standing or slow-moving water provide an optimal environment for toxic algae, so it’s not commonly found in rivers or high mountain lakes.

    “There isn’t an easy fix for this,” Melynda May, Water Quality Specialist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “There are some physical and chemical controls but they are expensive and they don’t guarantee the removal of the toxic algae. Everyone can be algae aware and play a role to help prevent toxic algae blooms from forming in the first place.”

    Simple acts such as not using excess fertilizer, picking up pet waste, and not using de-icers that contain urea can help reduce the amount of nutrients entering our waterways and ultimately reduce the risk of algae blooms.

    More information, including guidance for managers or owners of waterbodies or owners of pets can be found at colorado.gov/cdphe/harmful-algae-blooms.

    Cherry Creek Reservoir photo of algae that tested positive for toxins
    Taken July 14, 2020. Credit: Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment

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