Austin expanding blue-green algae testing capacity; council approves contract to reduce lake toxins

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — The City of Austin Watershed Protection Department is expanding its testing sites for blue-green algae toxins as prime conditions for them to develop are on the way.

In a memo to Mayor Steve Adler and Austin City Council, department director Jorge Morales said he’ll add three more testing sites in both Lady Bird Lake and Lake Austin for staff to run tests every two weeks during the summer. The results of the tests will be available on the city’s algae reporting website.

Austin City Council approved Thursday a pilot program contract that could help the department mitigate the effects the toxins from blue-green algae. Cyanotoxins can kill animals if they come in contact with them by simply playing in the water, and during the summer is when the algae blooms that produce the toxins flourish.

In order to combat the toxins, council approved a five-year contract with SePRO Corporation for nearly $1.5 million to use a phosphorus-binding compound that has been shown to reduce the effects of cyanotoxins.

The pilot project consists of three applications of SePRO’s “Phoslock” compound by boat across 20 acres of water around Red Bud Isle for a nine-week period.

Morales said his plan is to do the first application of the compound on June 21, and it should decrease the amount and toxicity of the algae blooms. The contract also includes lab testing of the water and sediments, along with verifying that the phosphorus is decreasing.

Morales said the compound binds the phosphorus and makes it unavailable for the algae blooms to use as food. He said it was developed in Australia and has been used there to achieve lower levels of toxins.

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