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Group Wants Action Over Idaho Algae Blooms

Algae blooms can be toxic for humans when ingested in large quantities. (Idaho Department of Environmental Quality)
Algae blooms can be toxic for humans when ingested in large quantities. (Idaho Department of Environmental Quality)
July 23, 2018

CORRECTION: Idaho DEQ says no algae was found near Rexburg where a dog died after swimming last week. A previous version of this story stated algae caused the death. The dog's cause of death still is unknown.

BOISE, Idaho – An environmental group is warning that toxic algae blooms are threatening public health in Idaho this summer.

The Idaho Conversation League wants the state to act, after two ponds in a Boise park were closed last week because of blue-green algae.

Austin Hopkins, a conservation associate with the Idaho Conservation League, says the state's Department of Environmental Quality monitors algae activity, but faces a longtime challenge of under-funding.

"This is a serious thing,” Hopkins stresses. “We want to see DEQ receive the funding they need to have a staff person, dedicated either full-time or an existing staff member, more of their time. They have the funding to collect data, to work with communities."

At high levels, algae can be toxic to people and pets that drink contaminated water. Hopkins says another concern is that algae blooms could develop in drinking water sources.

Hopkins also notes that pollution is exacerbating this issue. He says runoff known as "non-point source pollution" typically comes from roads, farms and feedlots and can cause algae blooms, and this type of pollution isn't regulated by the Clean Water Act, unlike runoff from the end of a pipe.

Hopkins points out algae blooms can hurt recreation in small towns.

"We're hoping that, as these become more prevalent, people take some initiative and say, 'It's not legally required of me – the Clean Water Act doesn't say I have to do this – but I care about my community, and I want to make sure that our local reservoir is a prime spot for fishing,’” he relates. “’So, I'm going to do my part to limit my contributions of pollution.'"

Algae breaks out when temperatures are warm. Hopkins says as temperatures rise from the effects of climate change, these toxic blooms could become more common in Idaho.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID