AUSTIN (KXAN) — After more algae in Lady Bird Lake tested positive for neurotoxins, Austin city officials told KXAN they don’t know yet how it’ll be able to mitigate the problem and when the toxic algae might die off.
“It’s a new situation for Austin, and we’re really digging into testing and sampling what we’re dealing with here before we try to mitigate,” said Sara Hartley, Assistant Director of Austin’s Watershed Protection Department.
Hartley explained, it’s normal to have different types of algae in Lady Bird Lake, but they haven’t been able to figure out why now this type of algae is blooming.
Dealing with a different type of bloom:
City officials said what we’re dealing with is a benthic bloom. Bethnic means “bottom.” This algae is growing on thin mats on the bottom of the lake in shallow water. As the algae ages, or is disturbed by dogs or people, the mats lift and float to the top.
This type of bloom usually happens in places with clearer water where the sunlight can reach the bottom. It is more unusual and has not been studied as much as the planktonic bloom that most cities have seen and treated. That kind of bloom is made by a single cell algae that float around the water column.
Hartley said dogs are more severely affected by the toxins because “dogs interact with the water differently.” She said, “They often ingest more water when they’re playing. They can be along the shore, and they can eat something along the shore. Or they can even get it on their fur and lick it.”
As for people, Hartley said that if you’re staying on your paddle boards or kayaks, and you’re not getting into the algae we don’t have a great concern.
At this time, city officials said they can’t pinpoint a temperature range in which this type of algae thrives, so they can’t tell you yet when this algae will die off.
What they do know is that multiple factors play a role. “So that’s rain consistently. That’s temperature changes. Flow within the river,” Hartley said.
The city said up near Barton Springs, the water is colder. They believe people and pets can continue to swim there.
Sarah Cheatham who works at a kayak rental facility near Barton Springs said while people have been asking questions about the algae, business hasn’t slowed down.
“Definitely people have been concerned about their dogs and their children,” she said. “But people have been going in, but no one has, that I have heard, have been sick from here.”
Symptoms of toxic algae exposure
Dr. Ryan McCorkle, emergency room physician at St. David’s Medical Center, said, if you accidentally ingest water that contains toxic algae, you could get sick.
He said the algae can cause an allergic reaction causing an itchy rash, blistering , maybe some shortness of breath and wheezing.
He said the toxins can cause nausea, headache or fever. It could also cause liver and kidney problems.
“There’s no antibiotic, antiviral, antifungal that will actually kill the bacteria, but we can treat what are called the sequela the symptoms that occur. the severe dehydration, the nausea, the vomiting, the diarrhea,” McCorkle explained.