In 2011, blue-green algae concentration was so high at Milford Reservior in Kansas that recreational visitors became ill and dogs died. A University of Kansas researcher says in a new published study that human-caused climate change would increase the risk at U.S. lakes of being harmed by toxin created by algal blooms. (Ted Harris/Kansas Biological Survey)
TOPEKA — Environmental and health regulators in Kansas routinely notify the public when lake concentrations of blue-green algae surged to levels that people and pets should avoid drinking or swimming in the water.
Warning advisories are in place for Lake Afton in Sedgwick County, Fossil Lake in Russell County, Big Eleven Lake in Wyandotte County, Harvey County East Lake, Lovewell Lake in Jewell County and South Lake in Johnson County. Algae blooms of lesser threat to people and animals were reported in Horsethief Reservoir in Hodgeman County, Lake Shawnee in Shawnee County and Warnock Lake in Atchison County.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment said no Kansas lake had an accumulation of algae warranting the hazard label, meaning a lake should be closed and adjacent land could be blocked off.
A University of Kansas researcher and his colleagues published an article in Nature Water raising a different warning about environmental conditions that could drive toxin produced by some blue-green algal species to spike above water quality thresholds in the years ahead. The toxin, microcystin, could damage the liver in humans and kill domestic and wild animals.
Ted Harris, assistant research professor with the Kansas Biological Survey & Center for Ecological Research, said analysis of water quality in 2,800 U.S. lakes over a 10-year period pointed to increased risk of high toxic concentrations associated with human-driven climate change.
“We found toxic blue-green blooms thrive under climate change conditions and warmer temperatures,” Harris said. “It’s clear regions with a history of fewer toxic blooms are likely to experience an increase in such occurrences due to climate change. High-nutrient lakes, which serve as a fuel source for these blooms, are particularly vulnerable to this trend.”
The work by Harris and Julian Merder, along with Anna Michalak and Gang Zhao of the Carnegie Institution for Science, as well as Dimitrios Stasinopoulos and Robert Rigby of the University of Greenwich, was drawn from samples collected from 2007 and 2017 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The researchers said climate-change forecasts showed a northward shift in areas at higher risk for algal blooms, particularly the northern Great Plains and northwestern United States.
Agricultural regions in the United States with high-nutrient lakes due to crop field runoff would be exposed more frequently to temperatures ideal for algal blooms and the associated risk to drinking water sources, recreational activities and human and animal health, researcher said.
Harris, who specializes in the study of algal blooms, said dog owners who routinely visited lakes should be attuned to the projected shift in blue-green algae blooms. This type of algae floats and could be moved by wind to the edge of lakes closer to boat ramps, people and animals.
“The negative effects of these toxins, particularly those affecting the liver, can lead to death, with rare cases of human fatalities,” he said. “More commonly, animals, especially dogs, are adversely affected.”
In 2011, a toxic bloom at Milford Reservoir in Kansas led to vomiting, diarrhea, skin rashes, eye irritation and respiratory symptoms among people using the lake for recreation.
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