More blue-green algae blooms in Alberta after record heat

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More blue-green algae blooms on Alberta lakes
Recent high temperatures are causing more blue-green algae bloom in Alberta lakes. And as Julia Wong reports, one biologist said Albertans should be planning trips to the lake sooner rather than later – Jul 12, 2021

Recent scorching temperatures are contributing to more blue-green algae blooms in Alberta lakes, and one expert says Albertans may want to plan trips to the lake sooner rather than later.

University of Alberta aquatic ecology professor Rolf Vinebrooke said blue-green algae is forming in smaller and shallower lakes since they warm up quickly compared to large lakes.

“The blue-green algae are just like any type of organism. If you warm them up, they just start more rapidly growing because they’re taking up nutrients faster, and they’re just able to achieve a higher growth rate,” Vinebrooke said.

READ MORE: Alberta family sends out water warning after pet dies from suspected blue-green algae exposure

Vinebrooke said that as lakes warm up, more and more nutrients get released from the sediments.

“If you warm up sediments, they start to release nutrients more rapidly, and the nutrients are what really also fuel the blue-green algae in terms of increased growth,” he said.

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There are currently 15 blue-green algae advisories in effect in the province; Vinebrooke said there are more advisories compared to this time last year but only because the previous year was wetter, cloudier and less hot. Otherwise, the number is comparable to other years.

Vinebrooke said Albertans seeking lake activities should take advantage now.

“If these sort of hot temperatures continue over the next few weeks, then we will definitely start getting deterioration in water quality come August,” he said.

Advisory in effect

There is currently a blue-green algae advisory at Heritage Lake in Morinville, which has a popular campground nearby.

Campground owner Adele Maruschak said the water at the lake was swimmable a couple of weeks ago but not anymore.

“A couple of people left early because the lake had an algae bloom. Most people just say, ‘It’s Alberta. It’s summertime,’” she said.

Krystal Pulyk is staying at the campground with her family, including her three children. The family booked the site a couple of months ago, and Pulyk said Monday she was excited there was a lake nearby.

“When we got here yesterday, I was a little disappointed,” she said after she was told about the advisory.

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Pulyk said her children once swam in a lake that had blue-green algae before the advisory was released.

“All the kids ended up getting a really bad itch… Their legs were just covered in red blotches,” she said.

The family said it has been vigilant since arriving at the campground.

“They did come yesterday to play down by the water and they were filling their buckets. I just said, ‘Don’t go in.’ I said, ‘I don’t want you playing in it,’” Pulyk said.

“The little bit they got on them, we just made sure we showered them really good before we went to bed.”

Testing for algae

Alberta Health Services said similar to last summer and due to laboratory availability, the Recreational Water Quality Monitoring Program has identified priority waterbodies for routine blue-green algae testing and monitoring.

The bodies of water have been prioritized by beach popularity and history of blue-green algae contamination.

Blue-green algae blooms occur naturally and become visible when weather conditions are calm. It looks like scum, glass clippings, fuzz or globs on the surface of the water. Despite the name, the blooms can be greenish-brown, brown and/or pinkish-red and often smell musty or grassy.

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AHS has the following precautions if you plan to visit a lake with a blue-green algae advisory:

  • Avoid all contact with blue-green algae blooms. If contact occurs, wash with tap water as soon as possible.
  • Do not swim or wade (or allow your pets to swim or wade) in any areas where blue-green algae is visible.
  • Do not feed whole fish or fish trimmings from this lake to your pets.
  • Consider limiting human consumption of whole fish and fish trimmings from this lake, as it is known that fish may store toxins in their liver. But people can safely consume fish fillets from this lake.

– With files from Kirby Bourne

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