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Austin says level of blue-green algae in Barton Creek is safe now for swimmers — but not for dogs

Toxic algae found at Red Bud Isle in 2019.
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon

Toxic levels of blue-green algae in Barton Creek have abated, the city says.

Back in September, the city cautioned swimmers to avoid the waters near Sculpture Falls, citing the risk of skin irritation and other symptoms. Now, the Austin Watershed Protection Department says the level of bacteria is below EPA minimums and is safe for swimmers.

Still, the bacteria is harmful to pets and has killed several dogs over the last few years. While the department says levels aren't currently an immediate risk to dogs, it's urging pet-owners not to let dogs near the water along the swimming spot at MoPac and Loop 360.

The bacteria, known as cyanobacteria, gloms onto algae blooms in the creek. It first appeared in 2019 at dog-friendly spots like Red Bud Isle, Lady Bird Lake and the Barton Springs Pool spillway.

The bacteria thrives in warm, stagnant water and is particularly well-suited to Austin. The agricultural runoff in the chain of lakes that feed Lake Austin and Lady Bird Lake foster algae growth downstream, and Texas' typically sunny, dry summers help feed the algae blooms.

Because of that, the city says, it's likely the levels will rise again.

"It is possible that the higher toxin levels or a different cyanotoxin will return without warning in the future," the watershed department said. "This is more likely when the flow drops. People should use caution and avoid swimming if the water is warm, if it appears stagnant, if there’s scum or film on the water or if there are mats of algae."

You can monitor the levels on the city's dashboards for Lady Bird Lake and Lake Austin.

Got a tip? Email Andrew Weber at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.

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Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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