Summer heat brings lake warnings. Here’s what to know

Algae blooms can make swimmers sick

Photo of algae bloom in St. Johns River.

ORLANDO, Fla. – As the heat settles in, many people often head to our many lakes to take a dip to cool off.

It’s also a time where lakegoers should keep an eye on lake warnings that may be issued for bodies of water due to toxins and algae blooms. The toxins can impact your health. Let’s break down the details.

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Lake warnings

Algae Bloom: Palatka, Lake George, Drayton Island, Welaka, April-May 2019, photos by St. Johns Riverkeeper

Harmful algae blooms are often detected in our lakes during the summer months when the heat settles in and the bodies of water warm up. This is most likely to happen in bodies of water that are still and high in phosphorus and nitrogen.

When the algae grows too fast, the rapid growth and decomposition can deplete oxygen levels resulting in the loss of vital plants necessary to support wildlife.

Additional contributors to more algae blooms are attributed to runoff from fertilizers, yard waste, pet waste and sewage. They add extra nutrients into the lake water resulting in more algae blooms. Blue-green algae is always present in the water and is part of the lake ecosystem.

Not all of the blooms produce toxins and only a few are harmful. It can be hard to predict toxic blooms because the algae has potential to have both toxic and non-toxic strains. The Florida Department of Environmental Protect along with city officials test the bodies of water for toxins in order to determine if they are dangerous to swimmers. From there, they will issue a warning for unsafe concentrations and post swimming and recreation advisories/limitations to protect not only the people, but the lake and all the marine life living there.

Health impacts

Depending on the algae’s makeup, there can be different types of health hazards. The most common symptoms are irritations of the skin, eyes, nose or throat. Abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and headaches are also common symptoms that happen through direct contact or inhalation. If the strain is highly toxic, neurotoxins can also be present that affect the nervous system along with hepatoxins that can impact the liver. Skin rashes and irritations can also occur along with stomach and intestinal issues previously mentioned.

Pets can also be affected. Be sure to keep them out of the water if warnings are posted.

How to help

Orange County approves stricter fertilizer rules to curb water pollution

To help reduce the amount of algae blooms that can occur there are things everyone can do whether you live near a body of water or not.

Fertilizers are a big factor along with yard waste. When fertilizing the yard be sure to use a low to zero-phosphorous one. Also, be sure to bag yard waste instead of blowing it into the streets where it can go down drains and get into the water.

If you live near water, keep a 15-foot buffer from the yard to the shore. This buffer will help keep the area closest to the water fertilizer-free.

If you hire lawn maintenance check to see if they are GI-BMP certified. Green Industries Best Management Practices (GI-BMPs) teaches environmentally safe landscaping practices. This educational program is designed to help conserve and protect Florida’s ground and surface waters.

Stay Informed

Checking the water quality in your area is available with just a few clicks. The Protecting Together website allows anyone to view the statewide map to see water quality in addition to city websites that will provide local lake warning information. Check out the statewide map, by clicking here. Users can even sign up to receive email updates for areas near them.

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About the Author:

Emmy Award Winning Meteorologist Samara Cokinos joined the News 6 team in September 2017. In her free time, she loves running and being outside.