The City of Austin says toxic blue-green algae will likely stay in Lady Bird Lake until the weather cools off this fall. So far, it’s been blamed for the deaths of at least five dogs that swam in the lake, and Austin is not the only place dealing with the dangerous bacteria this summer.
There’s no systematic national tracking or reporting of the algae-related neurotoxin called cyanobacteria, but it appears to be breaking out in big numbers across the country, according to media reports.
“We found that the number of stories written about algae blooms has been increasing every year since 2010,” says Anne Schechinger, a researcher who tracks algae reports at the Environmental Working Group.
Schechinger says that year there were only 71 reports about the algae. Last year there were 441.
“So far in 2019, there were 354, and the bloom season isn’t over yet," she said. "So we really expect this year to have the most reports of blooms.”
Schechinger's group is calling for public state and federal monitoring of the algae.
In Texas, local entities like Austin Water do monitor for cyanobacteria to protect drinking water quality, but Schechinger says most of the testing is reactive.
“That’s what a lot of states do,” she said. “They don’t really test and then an emergency happens where dogs are killed or people are sickened by and algae bloom and then they go in there and say, 'Uh, we really need to start testing.'”
Schechinger says agricultural runoff and hot weather are two main contributors to algae blooms – not dog or goose poop, as some people believe. Heavy rains in the spring and hot weather across the country this summer made more outbreaks likely. And experts say we can expect more algae blooms as climate change warms lakes and rivers.