Harmful Algal Blooms should be reported

You may remember several nearby recreational waters, including Bowman Haley Reservoir, being closed last summer due to high levels of microcystin in the water.

By Angel Wyrwas

You may remember several nearby recreational waters, including Bowman Haley Reservoir, being closed last summer due to high levels of microcystin in the water. Microcystin is a cyanotoxin caused by blue-green algae. When present in water, cyanotoxins are dangerous for both people and animals.

Those harmful algal blooms (HAB) are not new, but now state agencies are asking for the public’s help locating them in case they turn toxic. According to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, a HAB can cause harm by producing toxins that can poison humans, fish, seabirds, aquatic animals, livestock, wildlife, and household pets (such as dogs) that are near the water, consume the water, or swim in the water.

The production of blue-green algae can happen with the combination of hot weather and stagnant water though the DEQ reports that there are very few instances where the cyanobacteria is actually toxic. Potentially toxic blue-green algae occur throughout Montana in any standing bodies of water exposed to the sun, e.g., lakes, reservoirs, stockponds, and roadside ditches.

A HAB appears as “pea soup,” “grass clippings,” or “green latex paint.”  The algae usually are suspended in the water column or aggregated into floating mats; they do not grow from the bottom as do mosses or “water weeds.”

The DEQ and the Department of Public Health and Human Services have teamed up to create a website where people can report when they come into contact with an algae bloom. To report a suspected harmful algal bloom visit www.dphhs.mt.gov/HABreporting and follow the Report a Harmful Algal Bloom link. You may also report a HAB by calling: 1-888-849-2938 or emailing HAB@mt.gov.

The agencies involved plan to use the data for better identification, early warning and prevention. In the future, DEQ hopes to have a publicly available map that shows all the locations where algal blooms have been discovered.