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Officials Keeping An Eye On Algal Growth At New Melones

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Sonora, CA – Concerns over algae growth in New Melones have triggered a multi-agency public awareness response.

As reported here, the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) had staff posting educational signs late last week following Clarke Broadcasting’s queries since early July as to the lake’s greener water hue and satellite map images indicating slight increases in algal activity above the reservoir in the Stanislaus River. It was near the location where non-toxic cyanobacteria found last year around this time led to advisories.

On Monday, State Water Boards scientist Keith Bouma-Gregson released more details and a recently captured aerial image of New Melones focusing on greener water and cyanobacteria being observed in the Camp Nine area of New Melones Reservoir.

He says his office, BOR, Calaveras, and Tuolumne counties’ Environmental Health offices are continuing to track the situation and will collect samples if the bloom worsens.

“Algae are a normal part of the ecological cycle in warm surface waters and appear naturally every spring and summer in lakes and reservoirs and throughout the nation, including Calaveras County,” Gregson explains. “One group of organisms known as cyanobacteria [blue-green algae], however, is a concern because some species produce toxic compounds called cyanotoxins. When cyanobacteria increase in abundance, they form a harmful algal bloom (HAB).”

Those Most At Risk

He emphasizes that younger children and dogs are at higher risk of cyanotoxin exposure because they are more likely to consume water while they are wading and swimming, often stay in the water longer than adults, and have a smaller body size than adults. Livestock has also been impacted by cyanotoxin poisonings after drinking water from a lake or pond experiencing a cyanobacteria bloom.

Humans exposed to cyanobacteria may experience common symptoms that include rashes or other skin irritation, allergy-like reactions, runny nose, or sore throat. If ingested in large amounts, symptoms could include in some cases, sharp severe stomach aches, diarrhea and vomiting, liver damage, numb limbs, tingling fingers and toes, and dizziness. More information about health impacts from cyanobacteria and resources for medical professionals can be found on the CA HABs Portal by clicking here.

Dogs are especially susceptible because they tend to drink while in the water and lick their fur afterward, increasing their risk of exposure and illness. Symptoms with animals include vomiting or diarrhea, lethargy, abnormal liver function test results, difficulty breathing, foaming at the mouth, muscle twitching, and sometimes death. Read more by clicking here.

Although there is no local monitoring program for blue-green algae, Gregson says heavy cyanobacterial blooms typically are readily visible. Often described as looking like pea soup or spilled paint on the surface they can also produce a swampy odor when the cells break down. However, lighter blooms may be less easy to detect, especially if they are floating beneath the surface or on the bottom of a water body. A helpful guide for distinguishing between blue-green algae blooms and non-harmful algae blooms can be found by clicking here.

Gregson encourages anyone who sees something that doesn’t look right in the water to notify the local recreational or water body manager and report it to the Water Boards. Learn more by clicking here. He adds “When in doubt, it’s best to stay out.”

Healthy Water Habits To Have

Among the healthy water habits to observe when there might be algal activity are the following directions:

• Heed all instructions on posted advisories if present
• Avoid algae and scum in the water and onshore
• Keep an eye on children and pets (dogs)
• If you think a HAB is present, do not let pets and other animals go into or drink the water or eat scum and algal accumulations on the shore
• If you think a HAB is present, reduce the potential for inhalation of sprays or mists by avoiding areas downwind of the bloom, and activities near the bloom that could kick up sprays, such as boating at higher speeds, water skiing, or splashing.
• Don’t drink the water or use it for cooking
• Wash yourself, your family, and your pets with clean water after water play
• If you catch fish, throw away guts and clean fillets with tap water or bottled water before cooking
• Avoid eating shellfish if you think a HAB is present