Volunteers Watching for Toxic Blue Green Algae

Kym Kemp / Friday, Aug. 10, 2012 @ 9:03 a.m. / Environment

Press Release from Eel River Recovery Group:

At the same time the Eel River Chinook salmon run is resurging to levels not seen in 50 years, stream margins in dry years are becoming toxic to humans and animals due to blue green algae blooms. Although toxic conditions have not formed since 2009, eleven dog eaths have been documented by the Humboldt County Department of Public Health (HCDPH) that are attributed to toxic algae dating back to 2001, mostly in the South Fork Eel and lower Van Duzen River. Citizens of Fortuna and Redway expressed extreme concern about the public health risk posed by toxic algae at community forums in early September 2011 sponsored by the Trees Foundation. In response to this community need and others, the Eel River Recovery Project (ERRP) was formed and citizens are currently monitoring different river reaches as an early warning system to protect public health.

The toxic algae problem is relatively new to the Eel River, but it is not unique in the region. It seems that water bodies out of ecological balance are subject to colonization by toxic blue green algae throughout the West. The Eel River toxic species are Planktothrix and Anabaena that can create neurotoxins that are fatal within minutes to dogs that play in algae blooms in stream edges and then lick their fur. Toxic algae does not form in all years and it looks like we may avoid the problem in 2012 due to late rains and a cool summer, but ERRP volunteers are surveilling conditions on the Van Duzen River, South Fork and lower Eel River.

Volunteers are taking pictures of locations that have been known to form toxic conditions and automated temperature sensors are being placed nearby. The hope is that a relationship between ambient stream temperature and development of toxic conditions can be established as part of an early warning system. Water temperature sensing devices used in 2012 are on loan to the ERRP from the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board and the Mendocino County Water Agency.

The ERRP is working with the Humboldt County Public Health and contact is made if conditions become threatening or if there is any evidence of toxic exposure of pets or people. The toxic species often are intermixed with other algae species and can only be identified with magnification. They County and State do not currently have a budget for testing for toxic algae except in emergencies, such as when dogs die. ERRP may try to help get grants so we can help the County to get more and better toxic algae data. In the mean time the best strategy to keep pets and children safe is to avoid contact with stagnant stream margins that have algae abundant blooms.

It is assumed that nutrient pollution reduction and water conservation are needed to lessen toxic algae risk and to restore the Eel River’s ecological balance. Speakers at the ERRP sponsored a Water Day forum this past May 6 discussed ways to cut down on pollution and agricultural water use and grant funds are being pursued to promote more widespread implementation of the recommended strategies.

The ERRP operates under the umbrella of the Trees Foundation and the 2012 monitoring program is sponsored by a Rose Foundation grant as well as a private donation. The project also includes citizen assisted temperature trend monitoring of streams and fall Chinook salmon counts. More volunteers are needed and those interested can contact ERRP volunteer monitoring coordinator Patrick Higgins, at (707) 223-7200. See www.eelriverrecovery.org for more information.

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