TOPEKA (KSNT) – Blue-green algae is afflicting several lakes in Kansas this summer, bringing some recreational activities to a standstill due to health concerns for both humans and their pets.
27 News spoke with Tom Styles, Director of the Bureau of Water for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, on Tuesday about how the algae, or harmful algal blooms, are spreading. According to Styles, the algae isn’t spread by human activities but is instead something that occurs naturally.
“First off, the algae is always in our lakes,” Styles said.
While the algae exists in low numbers, a “perfect storm” created by an abundance of nutrients, calm conditions and warm temperatures can lead to an outbreak of the algae and the development of HABs. The growth of the algae and subsequent blooms can be very rapid, making them a large nuisance for the lakes and other waterbodies that they’re found in.
“Some of the lakes that are currently on our list have seen it year end and year out,” Styles said.
Marion Reservoir, which was declared by the KDHE as being at “Hazard” levels of toxicity due to an abundance of the blue-green algae on June 2, has regularly been infested with HABs. According to Styles, you can event set your calendar to when the first blooms will appear at the reservoir. In some cases, the algae will appear quickly before disappearing for the year.
“Sometimes, in the occasion of Lake Shawnee, it’ll crash and you won’t see it again all summer,” Styles said.
Each algal bloom has its own characteristics according to Styles. Each has unique qualities that may make it last all summer or die off within a week. Disturbances to the water that the blooms dwell in such as strong wind may cut their time shorter as well. 27 News also asked Styles why the blooms posed such a danger to humans and pets.
“Its in their DNA to produce toxins… it’s a defense mechanism,” Styles said.
Each person and animal has their own tolerance level for the toxins produced by the blooms. Depending on the level of exposure, a person may experience rashes or respiratory illnesses. Internal organs such as the liver or kidneys can be impacted along with the nervous system. To date, there have been no human deaths caused by exposure to blue-green algae or HABs.
However, pets, especially dogs, can be overpowered by the HABs and take a lethal dose of toxins according to Styles. Dogs will ingest contaminated water and will often lick their fur upon exiting a waterbody, increasing the amount of toxins they are exposed to.
“We’ve seen a number of dog deaths over the seasons from dogs playing in the water,” Styles said.
Styles went on to say that cattle as well can suffer from exposure to blue-green algae which can infest ponds that livestock drinks from.
When asked which lakes might next see algal blooms, Styles said that Cheney Lake, Milford Lake and Perry Lake could all see HABs this summer. All in all, 30-40 reservoirs are impacted by HABs over the course of a typical summer in Kansas.
The KDHE first warned Kansans of the arrival of blue-green algae on May 26. To see the full list of lakes that have active advisories for blue-green algae as of June 3, see below:
- Marion Reservoir, Marion County
- Big Eleven Lake, Wyandotte County
- Colwich City Lake, Sedgwick County
- Gathering Pond, Geary County
- Herington City Lake, Dickinson County
- Jerry Ivey Pond, Saline County
- Lake Shawnee, Shawnee County
- Marion County Lake, Marion County
- Garnett Lake (north), Anderson County