BC tracking website launched as Wood Lake algae bloom continues in Lake Country

Tracking BC algae blooms

A new provincial website to help identify and track algae blooms across B.C. following a major algae bloom on Shuswap Lake last year.

Last July, a massive algae bloom filled most of the Salmon Arm end of the lake, turning the water into pea soup for several weeks.

"We've never seen anything quite like that. We're still trying to fully understand the cause," says Mike Sokal, a water quality limnologist with B.C.'s Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. "The lake was visually unappealing, but health officials noted the water was safe for all recreational activities and public drinking water systems."

Algae are a natural part of all aquatic ecosystems. However, prolific growth can cause a dense mass or bloom to form. Most blooms are harmless, says Sokal, but some species have the potential to produce toxins that can be dangerous to people, pets or livestock.

The new Algae Watch website launches as an Interior Health warning continues about a similar algae bloom on Wood Lake in Lake Country.

The public is invited to contribute information to the site, to create a comprehensive picture of B.C.'s algae situation. It contains information to help recognize potentially harmful algae blooms and differentiate algae blooms from other natural phenomena, such as foam or pollen, which can sometimes look like blooms.

People can also use the online submission form to provide information on the location, extent and photos of an algae bloom, and access links to provincial health authorities in the event of a blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) bloom, which can be toxic.

The data collected will help scientists like Sokal determine future water-monitoring programs.

"The website can help us track changes over time and identify areas of the province that are getting more algae blooms. We can then start investigating what's causing these changes," said Sokal. "It's really encouraging to see people interested in what's happening at their lake. Some of those concerned citizens become champions for the lake and start local sampling programs."

Most algae blooms form when there are increased nutrients, warmer temperatures, abundant light and stable wind conditions. Some human activities, such as agricultural run-off or improperly placed or poorly functioning septic systems, can also make blooms more likely.

Fifty-three lakes throughout B.C. are being monitored through the BC Lake Monitoring Program.

IH issued the Wood Lake warning on April 21.

District of Lake Country spokesperson Karen Miller says the municipality has no update on the local situation, "but we were very pleased to see the launch of the new BC Ministry of Environment webpages specifically about algae in lakes."

Miller said Okanagan communities are noticing the impacts of flooding in previous years – "which increased the organic material moved by running water into lakes ... that has now had time to decay on the lake bottoms, thereby producing more nutrients and favourable conditions for algae growth."

She reminded residents to avoid all direct contact with the Wood Lake algae bloom, not consume drinking water directly from the lake, avoid swimming or wading in areas where the bloom is visible, and to provide pets and livestock with a safe alternative source of drinking water.

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