Warning: blue-green algae blooms at Woodruff Narrows

Harmful cyanobacterial blooms, commonly referred to as blue-green alage, cover portions of the surface at Woodruff Narrows Reservoir. Wyoming officials have issued warnings about recreating in such waters. Two dogs have died after swimming in a contaminated lake near Laramie. (HERALD PHOTO/Kayne Pyatt)

Four Wyoming lakes have bacteria that’s left two dogs dead in Albany County

EVANSTON — Woodruff Narrows Reservoir is one of four Wyoming lakes to contain cyanobacteria, commonly referred to as blue-green algae. The harmful bacteria have left two dogs dead after swimming in another Wyoming lake and prompted warnings from state agencies.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) has posted warning signs near the Narrows stating, “Advisory: Harmful cyanobacterial blooms have been identified in this waterbody.”

Woodruff Narrows has been a favorite area in Uinta County for fishing, swimming and camping since the 1950s. Now, it should be off limits for any recreational activity involving canines.

Cyanobacteria can form blooms that produce toxins and other irritants that pose a risk to human, pet and livestock health. The Wyoming Department of Health (WDH) issues a recreational use advisory for publicly accessible waterbodies once the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) determines that harmful levels of cyanobacteria and/or toxins are present in the water.

Three other Wyoming lakes are currently reported by the DEQ to contain cyanobacteria, including Eden Reservoir (Sweetwater County), Toltec Reservoir (Albany County) and Leazenby Lake (Albany County). Recently, two dogs have been reported to have died after swimming in Leazenby Lake.

WGFD Regional Fishery Supervisor Robb Keith covers Uinta County, Sweetwater County, Lincoln County and a small part of Carbon County waters.

Keith said, “The cyanobacteria blooms are a result of warmer temperatures possibly due to climate change and possibly other factors. We don’t know yet. The blooms won’t die off until the temperature cools. There is no method for getting rid of them.”

Keith said that the DEQ monitors the lake and DEQ and WDH had asked Game and Fish to put up signs. According to Keith, four signs were placed at access roads to the Woodruff Narrows in July.

WDH spokesperson Kim Deti said the health department and DEQ sent out joint news releases regarding the lakes and HCBs (harmful cyanobacteria blooms) early this summer. WDH had also asked Game and Fish to put up the advisory signs.

“Signage is most important,” Deti said, “and monitoring the blooms is DEQ’s responsibility.” 

DEQ representatives Keith Guille and David Waterstreet said the DEQ’s goal is watershed protection by using satellite imagery to evaluate 30 reservoirs in the state. If they see blue-green algae blooms, they take samples, and if the sample proves there is high enough concentration of the toxins, DEQ notifies WDH and recommends signage be placed.

Both Guille and Waterstreet said there is currently no method for immediate clean-up of the contaminant. They said cyanobacteria is a natural occurrence. The DEQ is looking at the big picture and evaluating what, if anything, allows the growth of the blooms to be more aggressive in production and last longer.

“What are the nutrients that lead to the blooms growth? Is it chemical run-off, pollution, animal or human waste? We are in the process of studying it,” Waterstreet said. “Our job is to manage recreation activities and ensure safety.”

Guille said the algae is typical in still bodies of water and when temperatures rise, the blooms thrive. 

“The HCBs are not unique to Wyoming,” he said. “We’re seeing more of it across the nation — more sunlight and hotter temperatures mean more blooms.”

Both DEQ representatives said that studying the blooms is a joint proactive effort with WDH, WGFD and Wyoming Livestock Producers. Guille said they are asking the press to help educate the public. More information can be found at WyoHCBs.org.

State Public Health Veterinarian and Environmental Health Epidemiologist Dr. Karl Musgrave said the bacteria are especially toxic to dogs that swim in or drink the contaminated water. 

“I have not seen any documented human deaths,” he told the Herald, “but the bacteria could cause serious sickness if a person was exposed to too much of the water in their system.”

Musgrave said the two dogs that died in Laramie after swimming in Leazenby Lake exhibited the symptoms occur when exposed to cyanobacteria blooms. He said there is no treatment or cure but only supportive treatment for the symptoms.

“We’ve discussed this problem a lot at the Department of Health,” Musgrave said. “How much should we do to alert the public? We’re still at the stage of posting signs. However, signage can be a problem when there may be nothing to post a sign on and to dig a large post hole for a bigger sign costs a lot of money. Funding is a problem with cutbacks. We are doing the best we can with the little or no funding we have. We depend a lot on the media to alert people.”

When the Herald visited the Narrows this week, there were a lot ducks on the water. Musgrave said the blooms can be dangerous to waterfowl and livestock.

“We have had some cases of ducks dying with the symptoms of HCB contamination,” he said. “Also, there was a large die-out of elk and cattle last year in New Mexico and it was from drinking HCB contaminated water.”

According to the WDH website, children, pregnant women, people with weak immune systems and animals are especially at risk from exposure. Anyone with questions regarding possible symptoms related to exposure to a cyanobacterial bloom can call Musgrave at (307) 777-5825. More health information can be found at www.cdc.gov/habs. 

Officials urge people to watch for signs at water recreation spots, check local media for alerts and stay out of known contaminated lakes.

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