Hitting the Water This Holiday Weekend? Be Aware of Harmful Algal Blooms

SACRAMENTO — With many swimmers and boaters expected at the state’s lakes, streams and reservoirs this July 4 weekend, the State Water Board is reminding the public to be mindful of harmful algal blooms (HABs) and to practice Healthy Water Habits, such as keeping pets away, if they see one.

Last week, the California State and Regional Water Boards conducted targeted sampling at some of the state’s most visited lakes and streams that have a history of HABs. This sampling was part of a collaborative effort with other state and local agencies to gather data and share it with the public.

“Being aware of the conditions at your local waterbody before heading out to recreate is important to keeping you and your pets healthy this 4th of July weekend, and anytime during these hot summer days when HABs can be present,” said State Water Board Vice Chair Steven Moore. “The State Water Board thanks local agencies and groups for working together to identify HABs and keep the public informed on how to safely recreate.”

The results of the targeted sampling for approximately 40 waterbodies are summarized in an interactive map, which can be viewed here. You can see which locations were sampled at each waterbody and recommended advisory levels. Recommended advisory levels are based on cyanotoxin testing results and/or visual indicators confirming the presence of a HAB. Be aware that HAB location, extent and toxicity can change quickly. The data in this map is subject to change as new information is received.

Algae and cyanobacteria, the organisms that cause HABs, have existed for billions of years as essential components of freshwater ecosystems. But when certain conditions favor their growth – such as warm temperatures, stagnant water flows and excessive nutrient inputs – they can multiply very rapidly creating “blooms.” These blooms can produce toxins, and taste and odor compounds, that pose health risks to humans and animals. When blooms pose a risk, they are referred to as harmful algal blooms (HABs).

Cyanotoxins and algal toxins pose risks to the health and safety of people and pets, drinking water, and recreating in water bodies affected by blooms. They can also accumulate in fish and shellfish to levels posing threats to people and wildlife. Symptoms of HAB-related illness in people and animals are available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and by contacting the California Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222).

Pets, especially dogs, are susceptible to HABs because they swallow more water while swimming and playing in the water. They are also less deterred by green, smelly water that may contain HABs. Animals can experience symptoms within minutes of exposure to the toxins. In the worst cases, animals have died. If your pet experiences these symptoms after exposure, contact your veterinarian immediately.

It is important to distinguish cyanobacteria/HABs from green algae and other non-toxic water plants that are not thought to pose potential hazards to health (Figure 2). HABs can be a variety of colors such as green, white, red or brown and may look like thick paint floating on the water. Cyanobacteria blooms have a grainy, sawdust-like appearance of individual colonies.

For help identifying a HAB, check out this visual guide fact sheet available on the CA HABs Portal here. For more information, please visit: California Harmful Algal Blooms Portal here.

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