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Warmer Weather Often Means More Algae Blooms

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The state Department of Environmental Quality is monitoring a handful of excessive algae blooms at lakes across the state this summer.

The agency says the growth is not out of the ordinary for this time of year, but swimmers should always be careful of larges patches of algae.  DEQ ecologist Leigh Stevenson said some algae blooms can severely degrade a lake's water quality.

"You can get these really thick scums that make just looking at the water unpleasant, and then algae can actually really affect the chemical and physical properties of the waters," Stevenson said.

Stevenson developed an interactive map that shows where algae blooms are happening and whether they might be toxic.

"The points displayed on the map have exceeded a threshold that we've set with the Division [of Water Resources] indicating there is excessive algal growth above what would be normal for your typical water body across the state," she said.

Severe blooms can produce harmful compounds.

"Just because these types of algae are present in the water doesn't necessarily mean they're producing those harmful compounds," Stevenson said. "But some of them have the potential to, so we try to go in and assess the situation and really keep people informed on what that particular bloom is doing at that time."

The state Department of Health and Human Services says people should avoid contact with large accumulations of algae, especially if it appears to be light green or blue.

DHHS says toxins from some species of cyanobacterial, or blue-green, algae "can affect the kidneys, gastrointestinal tract, liver, and nervous system of people, pets, livestock and other animals." They can be fatal to dogs who eat the algae or drink water near it, according to the agency.

DEQ takes residents' reports of algal blooms and fish kills here.

Will Michaels is WUNC's Weekend Host and Reporter.
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