Summer Increasingly Brings Toxic Algae to Freshwater Lakes in US – Watch Your Pets

Toxic algae in Shubael Pond on Cape Cod captured by drone        Photo: Town of Barnstable

The “dog days” of summer are here, and so is the threat of toxic algae in lakes and ponds across the U.S. according to reports from news outlets nationwide.  The Boston Globe’s David Abel reported on how the 996 small lakes on Cape Cod that had provided a respite from saltwater are now warming so rapidly that they are being “transformed by climate change” that saps their oxygen, makes them dangerous for swimming by humans and pets, and harms wildlife.  The Environmental Working Group (EWG) tracks pet deaths due to toxic algae and they have seen them across the country this summer — in “Little York Lake, in Cortland, N.Y.; Cedar Lake, in Minneapolis; in Mantua Reservoir and the Virgin River in Zion National Park, both in Utah; and a private pond near Bozeman, Montana.”

Why This Matters:  Often these blooms occur because of runoff pollution, but in some locations on Cape Cod with little of that, the culprit seems to be climate change.  The bigger issue, EWG explains, is that “Sixty-eight percent of Americans rely on drinking water that depends on lakes, rivers or other surface water, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.” And often the toxic algae is not visible to the naked eye.

Cape Cod’s Algal Blooms

The Globe’s Abel explains that toxic algae have been increasing on the Cape in recent years, with a no swimming order imposed on small Shubael Pond, and again this year when dead fish were seen floating on guacamole-colored slime.  “’The bacteria like warm, calm places, without a lot of water or wind velocity, and these little lakes are their perfect breeding grounds,’ said Charles Culbertson, a microbial ecologist with the US Geological Survey’s New England Water Science Center,” and the amount of the toxic bacteria can even double every thirty minutes in the right conditions. Culbertson continued, “As temperatures rise, we’re going to see more of this, meaning many of the ponds on the Cape could become unswimmable. You won’t want to be breathing the air around them, either.”  This echoes health warnings for coastal blooms, where even being near the algae without going into it can make people sick.

Increasing 7x

Abel reports that “Last year, more than 500 such algae blooms were reported in the nation’s lakes, ponds, and rivers — 18 percent more than the year before and more than seven times the number reported in 2010, according to the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy group in Washington, D.C., that tracks algae blooms.”  And, “Late July through mid-October is considered the peak season for the blooms, which thrive on high temperatures, and local officials expect more closures.” Per their website, “The Environmental Working Group tracks and maps news reports of outbreaks going back to 2010. The number has risen steadily since then, with one-fifth more blooms in 2019 than the previous year. The federal government only tracks outbreaks of toxic algae blooms in the largest lakes, missing many bodies of water included in EWG’s map.”

Up Next

Aquifers, 8% of Earth’s Land Area at Risk of Sinking, Flooding

Aquifers, 8% of Earth’s Land Area at Risk of Sinking, Flooding

by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer A first-of-its-kind study has found that in the next 20 years, 1.6 billion people will be affected by crumbling aquifers. Subsidence, the degradation of aquifers due to over-extraction of water and drought, causes the earth to cave in reducing aquifers’ ability to hold water and puts communities at risk […]

Continue Reading 504 words
In EJ Win, Navajo Nation Settles Lawsuit Over 2015 Oil Spill

In EJ Win, Navajo Nation Settles Lawsuit Over 2015 Oil Spill

In an environmental justice win, last week the Navajo Nation settled a lawsuit it brought against mining companies resulting from a destructive oil spill in 2015 that poisoned rivers in three western states.

Why this Matters:  This spill was devastating, contaminating 200 miles of river on Navajo lands — farmers and water utilities had to stop drawing from those rivers.

Continue Reading 551 words
Lead Pipes Continue to Plague Millions, Especially in Black Communities

Lead Pipes Continue to Plague Millions, Especially in Black Communities

by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer Despite a century of knowledge on the dangers of lead poisoning, dozens of studies showing the impacts of lead on children’s development, and high-profile humanitarian disasters like the 2014 Flint Water Crisis, millions of Americans are still being exposed to lead in their drinking water. What’s worse: new studies […]

Continue Reading 680 words

Want the planet in your inbox?

Subscribe to the email that top lawmakers, renowned scientists, and thousands of concerned citizens turn to each morning for the latest environmental news and analysis.