The hot August weather is sure to send droves to the water this weekend. But dog owners looking to help their pets beat the summer heat need to keep an eye out for toxic algae.
Harmful algal blooms, like the ones that fatally sickened dogs in Texas and North Carolina earlier this month, have also been spotted in Northern California waterways, state water officials said this week.
Not every bloom is toxic, but the toxins produced by the blue-green algae can be harmful and even deadly for pets when they eat the algae or drink the water, even in small amounts, water experts warn. Summer heat, stagnant or slow-moving water and nutrients from agricultural or septic runoff are an ideal recipe for the toxic stew.
“We have several blooms in California so far. In the summertime we expect more blooms. They tend to do well in warmer water,” said Keith Bouma-Gregson, who monitors freshwater harmful algal blooms as a program manager at the State Water Resources Control Board
Bouma-Gregson and others urge dog owners to keep their pets away from waterways potentially tainted with lethal toxins that attack the nervous system and organs. The dogs that died in Texas and North Carolina died within hours of their contact with the toxic algae.
In 2017, 18 cyanotoxin-related dog deaths were reported in California, according to the California Water Quality Monitoring Council. The deaths included two dogs who fell victim to the toxic algae at Napa County Pond.
Sacramento-area reports of harmful algae blooms have so far been few in August, according to reports from California Water Quality Monitoring Council. However, the Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge just south of Sacramento – the site of similar blooms in 2017 – continues to monitor algal blooms throughout the refuge’s Stone Lakes Basin. Staff there have canceled paddle boat tours until they determine the water is safe.
In the Sierra, Alpine County’s Indian Creek Reservoir posted a similar stay-away warning, imposed Aug. 8 after water samples showed elevated toxins.
The warning was clear: “Lake users should not swim, children and dogs should stay away from algae and scum in the water.”
And in Lake County, Clear Lake is the site of several warnings, with a danger warning for Lily Cove and cautions for Cache Creek Shady Acres and Austin Park.
The council relies on volunteers to call in the algae blooms. Routine monitoring programs also collect and share data but many lakes and ponds go unmonitored.
Identifying a potential harmful bloom is one way to keep pets – and people – safe around the water, Bouma-Gregson said this week.
You can’t see cyanotoxins – the toxins are produced by the algae – but potential harmful algae blooms have a distinct appearance and odor, says the State Water Resources Control Board.
Blooms can look like paint or soup on the water or can grow as blobs, mats or spires. Others take on the appearance of lettuce or chopped grass, while still other blooms appear as scum or bubbling foam.
The blooms can also give off fishy odors or smell like sewage or gasoline.
When heading to the water, be familiar with what blooms look like, Bouma-Gregson said. If you see blooms, avoid recreating in the water or touching the algae. Dogs and children are especially at risk because they are more likely to swallow the tainted water.
Tips to stay safe around water
▪ Heed posted warnings.
▪ Don’t drink the water or use it to cook.
▪ Wash yourself, family and pets with clean water after returning to shore.
▪ See something, say something. If you or your pet fall ill connected to a bloom, call the Water Quality Monitoring Council at (916) 341-5357 or call toll free: 1 (844) 729-6466] or email CyanoHAB.Reports@waterboards.ca.gov.