Toxic blue-green algae: What to know before you go to local waters

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DENVER (KDVR) — Labor Day weekend is the unofficial end to summer which brings a lot of people to local lakes in the state, but Colorado Parks and Wildlife wants people to remember to check for any changes in bodies of water before heading out. 

“It’s kind of new to people in Colorado, we’re not used to thinking about it. Across the United States we’re all paying more attention to it,” Ashley Rust, a water quality and monitoring specialist with CPW said. 

She said toxic blue-green algae can be found in lakes in Colorado and usually blooms between May/June until the end of September. Rust said no state park lakes are closed for recreation due to algae blooms at the moment. She said there were algal toxins present at Pelican Pond in St. Vrain State Park and Barr Lake State Park but neither have active blooms right now. 

The blooms at both spots only closed the lakes for recreation briefly (1-2 weeks) this summer. They still have caution signs up near the bodies of water in case something changes. 

“Pay attention to the signs. Read them all cause were trying to keep everyone safe,” Rust said. 

The toxic algae according to Rust is a natural part of lake ecosystem and grows from nutrients in the water, like water waste run off, fertilizers or dog feces not picked up. She said mix that with long hot, sunshine filled summer days, that makes for the perfect environment for it to grow in. 

“You can use less fertilizer and pick up after our pets. Those are all things you can do to minimize our nutrient pollution,” Rust said.

The toxic algae is recognizable by its color. It’s a green and blue and looks like there is either grass shavings, a hairy or grainy texture. According to a CPW educational hand out, toxic blue-green algae can also have a spilt milk or paint texture and if you see it that way its best to stay away. 

“We can get numb to those warnings but do pay attention to these cause it is a real problem,” Rust said. 

The toxic Algae can have an impact on both humans and animals. Rust said it can cause a rash, liver or neuro toxins and if enough is ingested it could lead to organ failure. But she said those who fall most vulnerable to the algae is our dogs and wildlife.

“Sometimes there will be seizures involved. That’s often what people will witness if there dog is experiencing a toxic overload of the blue green,” Rust said. 

She said they don’t want people to be afraid of the algae just be aware. For the bodies of water the CPW monitors, if it tests positive for toxic algae there will be weekly or bi-weekly testing following that. They will have signage up to alert people as well. 

FOX31 has reached out to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for a full list of bodies of water currently experiencing toxic blue-green algae that are not monitored by CPW; we are waiting to hear back.   

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