Harmful algal blooms cause concern at Corps lakes

Published Aug. 5, 2013
Harmful algal blooms at J. Edward Roush Lake in Huntington, Ind., summer 2013.

Harmful algal blooms at J. Edward Roush Lake in Huntington, Ind., summer 2013.

The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers is cautioning boaters and swimmers at several district lakes about possible contact with blooms of blue-green algae capable of producing toxins that can be especially harmful to small children, those with illness and animals.

Although a natural occurring phenomenon in lakes and streams, higher counts of the harmful algal blooms have been found at Louisville District Brookville, C.M. Harden, Mississinewa, Patoka, Roush, and Salamonie reservoirs in Indiana; Barren River, Nolin River, Rough River and Taylorsville reservoirs in Kentucky; and C.J. Brown and Harsha reservoirs in Ohio. The Corps is monitoring other district lakes to see if there are additional blooms at other reservoirs.

"We want to keep the public informed of the harmful algal blooms and let everyone know of simple precautions lake visitors can take while still enjoying our recreational opportunities," said Diane Stratton, Rough River Lake Corps park manager, one district Corps lake with algal blooms above the 100,000 cell count.

The lakes remain open to recreational users for swimming and boating but visitors should be aware of the possibility of adverse health impacts associated with contact with the water.

Precautionary measures include:  

  • Avoiding contact with visible algae and not swallowing water while swimming.

  • Taking a bath or shower with warm, soapy water after coming in contact with water in ponds and lakes, especially before preparing or consuming food.

  • Removing fish skin and organs before cooking; do not consume or allow animals to consume the organs or skin.

  • Washing clothing, rinsing lifejackets and equipment with fresh water after use.

  • Animals should not be allowed to swim in or drink untreated water from these sources. Animals can be poisoned by the toxins produced by some algal blooms. Small animals can ingest a toxic dose quickly.

    Dogs are particularly susceptible to blue-green algae poisoning because the scum can attach to their coats and be swallowed during self-cleaning.

    According to World Health Organization guidelines, the algal cell counts are at the cautionary level, and present a higher risk of causing health concerns for all people and animals that come in contact with the water. Clinical signs of blue green algae poisoning in animals include vomiting, diarrhea, decreased appetite, weakness, seizures and in extreme levels of toxins, sudden death, especially in livestock.

    The Corps of Engineers is working with state agencies in Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio to:  

  • Continue water quality monitoring and provide results to the public

  • Monitor any potential blooms on site at the lake

  • Post advisories at the lake in conspicuous places – either "advisory" (potential health affects) or "caution" (more significant risk of health impacts of HAB)

  • Keep boaters, swimmers and those who recreate at the lake informed of the possible risks

  • "Harmful algal blooms are not typical algal blooms," said Clark Dorman, manager of the Water Quality Branch, Kentucky Division of Water. "HABs are a form of cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, that may produce toxins that can cause nose and skin irritation and other illnesses in humans and animals....As the summer progresses, we will continue to track these levels and advise the public appropriately."

    Barren River, Nolin River and Rough River lakes provide water to local water/utility companies. The utility companies have been notified of the algal blooms. For specific inquiries about drinking water quality, contact the local utility office.

    Factors promoting algal growth include sunlight, warm weather, low turbulence, sewage and nutrient sources such as phosphorus and nitrogen. Phosphorous is particularly important in fueling cyanobacteria growth in the harmful algal blooms.

    "The presence of harmful algal blooms does not signify toxins are present, but does signify the possibility of toxins and possible impacts to people and animals. It’s important that people are aware so that they can make an educated decision for themselves and their families," said Jade Young, Corps biologist. "People need to take into account their individual health concerns before participating in water recreational activities. Harmful algal bloom levels vary and can impact individuals differently."

    For more information, visit the Louisville District HAB page

    If you have questions, contact the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lake offices:

    • Barren River Lake: (270)646-2055
    • Brookville Lake: (765)647-6701
    • C.J. Brown Reservoir: (937)325-2411
    • C.M. Harden Lake: (765)344-1570
    • William H. Harsha: (513)797-6081
    • Mississinewa Lake: (765)473-5946
    • Nolin River Lake: (270)286-4511 
    • Patoka Lake: (812)678-3761
    • Rough River Lake: (270)257-2061
    • J. Edward Roush Lake: (260)356-8648
    • Salamonie Lake: (260)782-2358
    • Taylorsville Lake: (502)477-8882