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Clean Water Risks of Toxic Algal Blooms

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Tuesday, September 8, 2020   

DENVER -- Water is the lifeblood of the West, but a warming climate and other factors have put Colorado's lakes, reservoirs and ponds at greater risk for toxic algal outbreaks.

Brian Kurzel, regional executive director for the National Wildlife Federation's Rocky Mountain Regional Center, said a recent rash of blue-green cyanobacteria blooms in Colorado are more than just an eyesore; they're dangerous for people, pets and wildlife.

He said leaders at all levels of government need to confront the outbreaks' root causes.

"Whether that be climate change, whether that be nutrient pollution," Kurzel said. "And we need them to have the clarity of purpose that is on par with the clarity that we want in our drinking water."

Algal blooms thrive in warmer waters, and Colorado's health department launched a monitoring program two years ago to find out if toxic blooms are on the rise.

Nutrient runoff from agriculture and residential fertilizers act as a kind of super-food that can enable blooms to take over entire lakes.

Algal outbreaks disproportionately impact Black and Latino populations, and Kurzel said until climate change and nutrient pollution are addressed, health disparities in Colorado are likely to increase.

Expanding blooms also will make it harder for low-income people and communities of color to access safe outdoor green spaces.

"So we have to find a way to support local economies without resulting in the pollution that is going to increasingly impact our fresh water here in Colorado," Kurzel said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, toxic outbreaks can cause skin irritation, rashes and blisters around the mouth and nose in people. Pets can be sickened, and owners in Georgia, North Carolina and Texas have reported deaths after their dogs swam in waters with toxic algae.

Disclosure: National Wildlife Federation contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Endangered Species & Wildlife, Energy Policy, Environment, Public Lands/Wilderness, Salmon Recovery, Water. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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