Fast Fact

To learn more about efforts to manage excess nutrients that feed Harmful Algal Blooms, visit the EPA Nutrient Pollution page at http://www.epa.gov/

Blue-Green Algae

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BGA Header Photos courtesy Friends of the Kaw

In this geographic region, conditions are sometimes ideal for Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs).  A Harmful Algal Bloom is when blue-green algae living in lakes and ponds grows rapidly and in excess.   

About Blue-Green Algae

Cyanobacteria, commonly known as Blue-Green Algae, are bacteria that live primarily in water.  They feed off of nitrogen and phosphorous from rural and urban runoff, and thrive if there are warm temperatures and an excess of nutrients.  The algae are microscopic, but when conditions are right they can form massive colonies that cover large bodies of water.  When Blue Green Algae grows rapidly in a large, dense area, it produces cyanotoxins in amounts that are poisonous to people and animals.  

How to spot a Harmful Algal Bloom

Harmful Algal Blooms can look like foam, scum, or spilled paint on the surface of fresh water lakes and ponds.  The coloration may vary - algal blooms can appear blue, green, brown, or red.  There may also be a strong musty smell that is similar to sewage or petroleum.  The highest occurrence of HABs occurs from May through October.

Signs of HAB Illness in People and Animals

Exposure to toxins from Harmful Algal Blooms is a serious issue.  HABs have caused cases of illness and death in people and animals.  Symptoms may appear as quickly as 30 minutes after exposure.  Seek immediate treatment for people or pets if there has been any exposure or consumption of Blue-Green Algae.  

Symptoms include:  
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Sore Throat
  • Coughing
  • Itchy or Red Skin
  • Blistering
  • Hives
  • Earache
  • Headache
  • Abdominal Pain
  • Eye Irritation
  • Difficulty Breathing
  • Respiratory Paralysis
  • Seizures
  • Lethargy
  • Jaundice
  • General Weakness

Avoid Harmful Algal Blooms

Stay out of water that looks or smells bad, and do not allow pets or children into water that appears contaminated.  If there has been any exposure to blue-green algae, quickly wash any exposed skin with clean water and seek treatment if necessary.

Pets:  A very small amount of algae can poison or even kill a dog.  Do not let your dog drink out of ponds or lakes, and do not allow it to eat dried algae along the shoreline.  A bluish color along the shoreline indicates the presence of blue-green algae - if your dog walks through it, don't let it lick its paws.  If your dog has swam or walked through algal contamination, rinse it off as quickly as possible with clean water.  Whenever possible, prevent your pet from coming into contact with animals that are at risk for contamination.

Fishing:  Watch for any signs posted that warn of a Harmful Algal Bloom.  Wash hands and arms thoroughly after exposure, and clean all fish with clean potable water.  Toxins can build up in the head and internal organs of a fish.  If the fish is caught in an HAB lake, it might be best to pick another entree for dinner.

Boating:  HAB toxins have the potential to become airborne.  Boating can atomize the toxins, which will cause respiratory issues if inhaled.  Avoid boating in any water with a Harmful Algal Bloom.

Report an HAB

The state of Kansas will post warning signs on all public water areas with HABs.  If you see a Harmful Algal Bloom, file a report as soon as possible.  To report a bloom, visit kdheks.gov/algae-illness or call 785-296-1664.


Possible Tap Water Contamination

WaterOne carefully tests for and filters organic material out of your tap water.  However, in the event that a Public Health Alert is issued by WaterOne for Blue-Green Algae, DO NOT BOIL THE WATER.  Blue-Green Algae is one of the very rare contaminants that is made worse by boiling.  Instead, do not use the water as described above and wait for an "All Clear" from WaterOne.

Public safety is our priority. If WaterOne detects this or any other harmful substance in the water supply, we are required by law to notify the public. To ensure we reach you with important information about water quality and your water service, sign-up for Notify JoCo.