Blue-green algae causing problems close to Beatrice

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission has issued a caution to hunters and any other member of the public who may be using the area around Olive Creek State Recreation Area. Anyone using the area, particularly the lake, needs to be aware of a report that a dog swimming in the lake recently has died. The cause of death is not yet confirmed, but it is suspected that ingestion of toxic blue-green algae might have been the cause of death.

Olive Creek is just a little over 30 miles northwest of Beatrice, so it is close to home. It is not one of the lakes that the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ) regularly tests for toxins. It is on the radar screen now!

Bluestem Lake, which is just a bit further away in the same area, was tested and is also on the NDEQ’s list of lakes with a health alert. Other lakes that are on the Health Alert, and easily accessed by folks from the Beatrice area are; Big Indian Creek, Iron Horse Trail, Kirkman’s Cove and Willow Creek.

This Health Alert means that the NDEQ feels that there may be enough toxins in the water to make it unsafe for swimming, water skiing or scuba diving. NDEQ routinely posts signs at lakes and reservoirs advising the public to use caution.

Swimming beaches at lakes with a Health Alert are routinely closed. Boating and other recreational activities are allowed, but the public is advised to use caution and avoid prolonged exposure to the water, particularly avoiding any activity that could lead to swallowing the water.

The NDEQ took a water sample at Olive Creek last Friday and results are expected as early as the end of this week. Anyone coming in contact with the lakes mentioned in this column needs to be wary of the potential for blue-green algae and its consequences.

Cyanobacteria is the “technical” name for blue-green algae. They are microscopic bacteria found in fresh and brackish water environments. The algae grows and colonizes forming “blooms.” The blooms in turn create the characteristic “pea soup” or green floating mats on the surface of the water and often have a disagreeable odor. It can also look like motor oil or a thick reddish-brown paint on the surface of the water.

The majority of blue-green algae blooms are not toxic, but some are. They produce toxic microcystins and anatoxins, which are poisonous to mammals. You cannot visibly tell dangerous algae from algae that are not dangerous without the right kind of testing.

Swimming or drinking from water that contains toxic blue-green algae can result in severe poisoning. Even small exposures, as little as a few mouthfuls of algae-contaminated water, can potentially result in a fatal poisoning.

Algae blooms are natural and can occur in any body of water. This kind of thing has been happening since there were lakes in Nebraska. There may be more now than there were 50 years ago, but I also think that the media is doing a better job of reporting instances.

These algae blooms can grow quickly in a lake under the right conditions and the right combination of warm water temperatures, shallow water and nutrients. There are visual cues for you to see if you are at a body of water that may be hazardous. You can see thick mats that are blown by the wind and collect along the shore. This makes the potentially dangerous toxins readily accessible to livestock, pets and people.

Risks to humans can also come from external exposure and prolonged contact with skin. Symptoms from external exposure are skin rashes, lesions and blisters. More severe cases can include mouth ulcers, eye and/or ear irritation.

Symptoms from ingestion can include headaches, nausea, muscular pains, central abdominal pain, diarrhea and vomiting. Severe cases could include seizures, liver failure, respiratory arrest and even death.

My best advice…if the water doesn’t look right to you, trust your instincts and don’t go in!

Remembrance

This is the anniversary of 9/11 when America was attacked and the Twin Towers fell. Take a moment to remember those who died and say a prayer for those who protect this country from further acts of terrorism. I think we’ll need those prayers because I think America will be attacked again.

 

Photo caption: If you are an outdoor enthusiast, I’m sure you have seen clumps of algae like this in ponds and lakes. Sometimes this algae can be toxic. The Nebraska Department of Environmental quality have issued Health Alerts for several lakes in southeast Nebraska.

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