Weather conditions spell ‘perfect storm’ for algae blooms
Photo by Peter Neely

Weather conditions spell ‘perfect storm’ for algae blooms

SALISBURY – State and local health officials are warning people to avoid exposure to potentially toxic algae blooms in Litchfield County lakes and ponds, fueled by a recent confluence of unusually hot weather, flash downpours and drought.

“It’s the perfect storm,” said Robert Rubbo, director of the Torrington Area Health District (TAHD) which received notice in late August from the Twin Lakes Association (TLA) of concerning algae clumps massing in shallow coves around East and West Twin Lakes in Salisbury.

The lake association had preliminary samples analyzed and found that the masses contain traces of cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae. While cyanobacteria is harmless at low levels, at elevated levels certain toxins it emits can be harmful to pets, especially dogs, and to humans, particularly children.

“Ingestion is the biggest thing with blue-green algae, especially with pets, who drink a lot of water when they go in, and it could be deadly to them,” said Rubbo. “The toxins are dangerous even to humans if they are swimming and ingest a certain amount of water.”

According to health officials, blue-green algae blooms have raised concerns in Connecticut and across the nation because the organisms can produce an array of neurotoxins, liver toxins, cell toxins and skin irritants.

More testing needed to determine toxin types, levels

On Aug. 30, Grant Bogle, president of the Twin Lakes Association, said he was awaiting results of testing being conducted in conjunction with the association’s lake management company “to understand more about the specific level and type of toxins that may be present.”

In the meantime, said Bogle, as a precaution, the lakes association has alerted appropriate officials in Salisbury, the TAHD, and the state Department of Environmental Protection and Energy (DEEP).

“They were smart enough to test and sample and report it. This is a growing issue,” noted Larry Marsicano, a limnologist with AER, the lake management company hired by Twin Lakes Association.

“We’re seeing the filament more this year than we have in past years. There are lakes out there that are constantly trying to manage cynobacteria even in open waters.”

“It’s a fine line,” between trying to inform the public and not causing panic, said Chris Bellucci, assistant director of DEEP’s water planning and management division. He said his office received notification of the Twin Lakes blooms through samples and images submitted by TLA association member Peter Neely.

“We know about it and have reviewed the pictures, which indicate there are indeed signs of cyanobacteria,” the DEEP official confirmed in an Aug. 31 phone interview.

Should cell counts and testing determine high toxin levels at a body of water, particularly public swimming areas, then DEEP will post health alert advisories.

Always present, sometimes harmful

Blue-green algae blooms are not unique to Twin lakes. Every lake, said AER’s Marsicano, contains cyanobacteria. “It’s not like the new plague.”

“The Twin lakes and Lake Wononscopomuc [in Lakeville] are lakes that support different kinds of algae populations. You might be out there and see this big cloud of green algae, and there would be no issue associated with that and it’s usually done by late July,” Marsicano explained.

Marsicano said while the Twin Lakes are known to be “pretty clear,” particularly out in the open waters, “now we are suddenly confronted with this shift where blue-green algae masses are accumulating in the coves.”

No issues at Lake Wononscopomuc

Bill Littauer, president of the Lake Wononscopomuc Association, said blue-green algae has posed no problems at Lakeville Lake this summer.

“So far there has been hardly any, and of course we are a much deeper lake,” he noted. “It’s been windy almost all summer, so the wind breaks up algae and doesn’t allow it to accumulate on the shoreline.”

Nutrients from humans exacerbate the problem

Cyanobacteria, which often resemble scum, foam or a thin layer of paint on the surface of water and range in hues from green to bronze, are more likely when water is warm, slow-moving and full of nutrients, such as nitrogen or phosphorous. Nutrients enter the water when runoff from properties washes into lakes and ponds.

“It hasn’t rained in quite a while, and you have everything on the surfaces of lawns that have not washed away in quite some time. And then you get a big flash of rain and all of a sudden,” DEEP’s Bellucci said, an influx of nutrients flows into the lake, fueling blooms.

According to Rubbo at TAHD, heavy rains also contribute to increased bacteria levels, like E.coli.

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