At least 11 dog deaths from suspected blue-green algae poisoning have occurred in the last dozen years, according to the Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). A recent press release from DHHS warns that low flows in local rivers, along with sustained high temperatures, have led to ideal conditions for accelerated blooms of potentially toxic blue-green algae. The algae can occur in any freshwater body and appears as a scum, foam or mats having colors ranging from green, blue-green, white to brown.
Human beings can also be in danger from this type of toxin, especially small children, but dogs are especially vulnerable because they are more apt to swallow the toxin when licking their fur. According to the press release, "Potential symptoms in dogs following exposure to blue-green algae toxins can include lethargy, difficulty breathing, salivation, excessive urination, vomiting, diarrhea or convulsions." The full press release appears below.
Full press release from the Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services, dated July 25, 2013:
Officials with the Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) are warning recreational users of the South Fork Eel, Van Duzen, Klamath and Mattole rivers, Big Lagoon, Freshwater Lagoon and all other freshwater bodies to avoid contact with algae this summer.
Low flows along the South Fork of the Eel River as well as the Van Duzen, coupled with sustained high temperatures in the inland areas, have created the ideal conditions for rapid blooming of blue-green algae.
DHHS is aware of 11 dog deaths that may have been caused by blue-green algae poisoning since 2001. The dogs died shortly after swimming in Big Lagoon, the South Fork Eel River and the Van Duzen River.
A nerve toxin associated with blue-green algae was found in the stomachs of the dogs that died on the South Fork Eel River in 2002. The same toxin was found in water samples from the South Fork Eel and Van Duzen rivers in 2009 just after two dogs died. This poison is the most likely cause of the dog deaths on these rivers. Dogs are more vulnerable than people because they may swallow the toxin when they lick their fur. The onset of symptoms can be rapid; dogs have died within 30 minutes to one hour after leaving the water.
Blue-green algae blooms that produce a liver toxin have been documented in Klamath River reservoirs and the Klamath River this year. The current status of this river may be found at the Klamath Basin Monitoring Program website: http://www.kbmp.net/blue-green-algae-tracker.
Blue-green algae can be present in any freshwater body. It looks like green, blue-green, white or brown scum, foam or mats floating on the water. Usually, it does not affect animals or people. However, warm water and abundant nutrients can cause blue-green algae to grow more rapidly than usual. These floating algal masses, or “blooms,” can produce natural toxins that are very potent. Dogs and children are most likely to be affected because of their smaller body size and tendency to stay in the water for longer periods.
Potential symptoms in dogs following exposure to blue-green algae toxins can include lethargy, difficulty breathing, salivation, excessive urination, vomiting, diarrhea or convulsions. People can experience eye irritation, skin rash, mouth ulcers, vomiting, diarrhea and cold- or flu-like symptoms.
DHHS officials recommend the following guidelines for recreational users of all freshwater areas in Humboldt County:
• Keep children, pets and livestock from swimming in or drinking water containing algal scums or mats.
• Adults should also avoid wading and swimming in water containing algal blooms. Try not to swallow or inhale water spray in an algal bloom area.
• If no algal scums or mats are visible, you should still carefully watch young children and warn them not to swallow any water.
• Fish should be consumed only after removing the guts and liver and rinsing fillets in tap water.
• Never drink, cook with or wash dishes with water from rivers, streams or lakes.
• Get medical attention immediately if you think that you, your pet or livestock might have been poisoned by blue-green algae toxins. Be sure to tell the doctor about possible contact with blue-green algae.
Human activities can have a big effect on nutrient and water flows in rivers, streams or lakes. Phosphorous and nitrogen found in fertilizers, animal waste and human waste can stimulate blooms. Excessive water diversions can increase water temperatures and reduce flows. People can take the following measures to prevent algal blooms in local waters:
• Be very conservative with the use of water, fertilizers and pesticides on your lawn, garden or agricultural operation.
• Recycle any “spent” soil that has been used for intensive growing by tilling it back into gardens, or protect it from rainfall to avoid nutrient runoff.
• Plant or maintain native plants around banks. These plants help filter water and don’t require fertilizers.
• Pump and maintain your septic system every three to four years.
• Prevent surface water runoff from agricultural and livestock areas.
• Prevent erosion around construction and logging operations.
According to a recent News Release from the California Regional Water Quality Control Board:
Due to its potential health risks, federal, state, and tribal agencies are urging swimmers, boaters and recreational users to avoid contact with blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) now blooming in the Klamath River, downstream of Iron Gate Dam, in Northern California. Water in the Klamath River from Iron Gate Dam to Turwar in Humboldt County has exceeded public health criteria; these areas have been posted with health advisories warning against human and animal contact with the water. Recent monitoring indicates that levels of cyanobacteria downstream of Turwar are also increasing (but are currently below the state’s action levels); water users are encouraged to use caution, and check most recent sampling results on the Klamath Blue-Green algae Tracker (see link below) for all locations along the River. Monitoring along the River is being conducted weekly and this advisory will be revised as conditions change.
Cyanobacteria (Microcystis aeruginosa) cell counts at several locations in the Klamath River downstream of Iron Gate Dam exceeded the public health advisory threshold during recent public health monitoring. Based upon earlier monitoring results, Iron Gate and Copco Reservoirs wereposted with health advisories in July. California agencies including the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), CA Department of Public Health, as well as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Yurok and Karuk Tribes urge residents and recreational water users to use caution or avoid getting in the water near these blooms. Public health monitoring for the Klamath River from Link River Dam in Oregon to the estuary in California (including Copco and Iron Gate Reservoirs) is conducted collaboratively by the United States Bureau of Reclamation, PacifiCorp, the Karuk Tribe, the Yurok Tribe, and the CA North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board and United States Environmental Protection Agency.
“As blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) can pose health risks, especially to children and pets, we urge people to be careful where they swim,” said Matt St. John, Executive Officer of the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board. “We recommend that people and their pets avoid contact with the blooms, and particularly avoid swallowing or inhaling water spray in an algal bloom area."
The algal blooms appear as very green water, and blue-green, white or brown foam, scum or mats floating on the water. Recreational exposure to toxic blue-green algae can cause eye irritation, allergic skin rash, mouth ulcer, vomiting, diarrhea, and cold and flu-like symptoms. Liver failure, nerve damage and death have occurred in rare situations where large amounts of contaminated water were directly ingested.
“This is a situation that anyone who comes into contact with water in algal bloom areas should be aware of. Vacationers and the public should adjust their activities accordingly”, said Mr. St. John.
The Statewide Guidance on Harmful Algal Blooms recommends the following:
- Avoid wading and swimming in water containing visible blooms or water containing algae, scums or mats.
- If no algae, scums or mats are visible, you should still carefully watch young children and warn them not to swallow the water.
- Do not drink, cook or wash dishes with untreated surface water under any circumstances; common water purification techniques (e.g., camping filters, tablets) may not remove toxins.
- People should limit or avoid eating fish. If fish are consumed, remove guts and liver, and rinse meat in clean drinking water.
- Take care that pets and livestock do not drink the water or swim through heavy algae, scums or mats, nor lick their fur after going in the water. Rinse pets in clean drinking water to remove algae from fur.
- Get medical treatment immediately if you think that you, your pet, or your livestock might have been poisoned by blue-green algae toxins. Be sure to alert the medical professional to the possible contact with blue-green algae.
With proper precautions to avoid water contact, people can still visit Klamath River and enjoy camping, hiking, biking, canoeing, picnicking, or other recreational activities, excluding direct contact with the waters impacted by algal blooms.
For more information, please visit:
California Department of Public Health:
State Water Resources Control Board
CA Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment:
Klamath Blue-Green Algae Tracker
US Environmental Protection Agency
Siskiyou County Public Health Department:
According to a Press Release from the Eel River Recovery Project, dated August 10, 2012:
At the same time the Eel River Chinook salmon run is resurging to levels not seen in 50 years, stream margins in dry years are becoming toxic to humans and animals due to blue green algae blooms. Although toxic conditions have not formed since 2009, eleven dog deaths have been documented by the Humboldt County Department of Public Health (HCDPH) that are attributed to toxic algae dating back to 2001, mostly in the South Fork Eel and lower Van Duzen River. Citizens of Fortuna and Redway expressed extreme concern about the public health risk posed by toxic algae at community forums in early September 2011 sponsored by the Trees Foundation. In response to this community need and others, the Eel River Recovery Project (ERRP) was formed and citizens are currently monitoring different river reaches as an early warning system to protect public health.
Humboldt County Public Health staff Harriet Hill samples toxic algae on the SF Eel River at Phillipsville in August 2009:
The toxic algae problem is relatively new to the Eel River, but it is not unique in the region. It seems that water bodies out of ecological balance are subject to colonization by toxic blue green algae throughout the West. The Eel River toxic species are Planktothrix and Anabaena that can create neurotoxins that are fatal within minutes to dogs that play in algae blooms in stream edges and then lick their fur. Toxic algae does not form in all years and it looks like we may avoid the problem in 2012 due to late rains and a cool summer, but ERRP volunteers are surveilling conditions on the Van Duzen River, South Fork and lower Eel River. Volunteers are taking pictures of locations that have been known to form toxic conditions and automated temperature sensors are being placed nearby. The hope is that a relationship between ambient stream temperature and development of toxic conditions can be established as part of an early warning system. Water temperature sensing devices used in 2012 are on loan to the ERRP from the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board and the Mendocino County Water Agency.
The ERRP is working with the Humboldt County Public Health and contact is made if conditions become threatening or if there is any evidence of toxic exposure of pets or people. The toxic species often are intermixed with other algae species and can only be identified with magnification. They County and State do not currently have a budget for testing for toxic algae except in emergencies, such as when dogs die. ERRP may try to help get grants so we can help the County to get more and better toxic algae data. In the mean time, the best strategy to keep pets and children safe is to make sure they avoid contact with stagnant stream margins that have algae abundant blooms.
It is assumed that nutrient pollution reduction and water conservation are needed to lessen toxic algae risk and to restore the Eel River’s ecological balance. Speakers at the ERRP sponsored a Water Day forum this past May 6 discussed ways to cut down on pollution and agricultural water use and grant funds are being pursued to promote more widespread implementation of the recommended strategies.
The ERRP operates under the umbrella of the Trees Foundation and the 2012 monitoring program is sponsored by a Rose Foundation grant as well as a private donation. The project also includes citizen assisted temperature trend monitoring of streams and fall Chinook salmon counts. More volunteers are needed and those interested participating in any activity can contact ERRP volunteer monitoring coordinator Patrick Higgins, at (707) 223-7200. See www.eelriverrecovery.org for more information.
September 2011 photo is of the same location on the SF Eel as photo at left and shows no sign of toxic algae:
According to a Press Release from multiple Klamath Stakeholder groups, dated 9/21/11:
- The most probable estimate for dam removal and associated mitigations is $290 million (in 2020 dollars). Partial removal would cost $247 million, this assumes leaving some structures in place such as old powerhouses and selected abutment structures. Note that $200 million would come from ratepayers (who would otherwise foot the $500 million plus price tag for dam relicensing) and the balance would come from California.
- The one-year dam removal project is estimated to result in 1,400 jobs during the year of construction.
- Commercial fishing jobs were estimated in five Management Zones. Estimated jobs stemming from improved fishing conditions range from 11 average annual jobs in the KMZ-OR Management Area to 218 average annual jobs in the San Francisco Management Area.
- Dam removal would immediately alleviate massive blooms of toxic algae that plague the river each summer and pose health risks.
- Salmon dependent Tribes would benefit from increased abundance of salmon and improved water quality.
- Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges would receive additional water and for the first time in more than 100 years, receive a certainty of water delivery. This water supply could improve hunting and wildlife viewing, which could attract more visitors to the refuges. There would be an estimated additional 193,830 fall waterfowl and 3,634 hunting trips over the 50-year period of analysis.