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Energy & Environment

These Dashboards Will Help People Monitor Toxic Algae In Austin Lakes, Officials Say

A group of people kayak down Lady Bird Lake in Austin.
Julia Reihs
/
KUT
Lady Bird Lake is one of the bodies of water in Austin where toxic blue-green algae has been found in recent summers.

The City of Austin is planning on reactivating its online blue-green algae monitoring dashboards to help residents monitor where toxic bacteria is found in the water.

Officials with the city's Watershed Protection Department say the system will be up and running again by the end of the month. The department will operate two separate dashboards for Lady Bird Lake and Lake Austin.

Since 2018, the summer heat has brought dangerous levels of toxic blue-green algae into local lakes and waterways. That algae, also known as cyanobacteria, has killed several dogs over the last few years and can sicken humans. Officials ask that people and pets keep out of the water if algae is detected nearby.

The city will also expand the list of places where it tests for blue-green algae. Just like last year, scientists will take samples from Red Bud Isle, Auditorium Shores and the Festival Beach Boat Ramp in East Austin every week over the summer. The city will add three monitoring sites on Lake Austin at Emma Long Park, the low-water crossing by the Mansfield Dam and at the Walsh Boat Ramp.

Brent Bellinger, a senior scientist with Austin’s Watershed Protection Department, said he also plans to monitor Lake Walter E. Long, also known as Decker Lake.

"These are sites that are popular recreational areas. There's a lot of human and potentially animal interactions with the water there," he said.

Bellinger said the mouths of Shoal Creek and Barton Creek on Lady Bird Lake will be dropped from routine sampling, but will be monitored visually.

To combat the spread, the city is considering a pilot program meant to starve off the algae.

Cyanobacteria feeds on phosphorous, which became abundant in 2018 when flooding upstream sent runoff containing fertilizers, septic waste and other things down the Colorado River. The city's plan is to treat lakes with a binding compound that captures the phosphorous and sends it to the bottom, where the algae can't reach it.

The pilot project will cost an estimated $300,000 and still needs final approval from Austin City Council.

Got a tip? Email Mose Buchele at mbuchele@kut.org. Follow him on Twitter @mosebuchele.

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