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Is Toxic Algae in Waters Near You?

PHOTO: Mats of thick blue-green algal blooms are plaguing many of the nation's water ways. Photo credit: Dr. Jennifer L. Graham, U.S. Geological Survey.
PHOTO: Mats of thick blue-green algal blooms are plaguing many of the nation's water ways. Photo credit: Dr. Jennifer L. Graham, U.S. Geological Survey.
October 17, 2013

PHOENIX – Toxic algae can be found in lakes, ponds and rivers across the country.

And according to a recent report by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and Resource Media it threatens both habitat and lives.

The report looks at reports of toxic algae this summer and found 21 states issued health advisories and warnings related to harmful algae blooms.

Andy Buchsbaum, regional executive director of NWF’s Great Lakes Regional Center, says the blooms often form when rainfall carries excess nutrients from agriculture and storm debris into rivers and streams.

"Not just the green algae that gums up your boat or your motor,” he says, “but this is toxic algae that actually has human health effects and can kill your pets. So, it's a national problem we expect to see in every state."

Buchsbaum says it's a problem that flies below the national radar because no federal agency tracks lake closures or health warnings, and there is little research on the costs associated with hazardous algae blooms.

Toxic algae produced a massive fish kill along a 20-mile stretch of the Salt River above Roosevelt Lake last summer. Toxic algae have also been confirmed in the other three Salt River lakes along with four urban lakes in metro Phoenix.

According to the report, extreme weather spurred by climate change is exacerbating the problem. Buchsbaum says another issue is the abundance of fertilizer being used on fields and in parks.

"People can make a difference by reducing the nutrients that feed the algae,” he maintains. “That's the number one response that we can have. We can't control the weather, we can't control temperature of the water, but we can control those nutrient inputs."

Buchsbaum adds more federal attention to the problem is needed, including limiting the amount of phosphorous allowed into waters.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ