The concerns of harmful algae blooms are going viral throughout the Nation. Although the stories range from abstract to some truth, it is important for everyone to be educated about the concerns of algae and public health. Most lakes this season including Big Bear Lake are seeing normal to above normal algae blooms due to the extreme run off of nutrients from the winter paired with very warm and calm weather. These blooms usually appear the heaviest in August when the lake mixes and can last several months. Although algae are always present in small numbers, blooms under the right conditions can spread very quickly. The Big Bear Municipal Water District monitors daily during summer months for algae present and have observed blooms from mid-July until current. With the current weather report, the likelihood of the algae increasing is likely.
Most of Big Bear Lake has tested safe for public use, however recent testing by State and Regional Waterboards have shown the presence of harmful bacteria in a sample collected in the Stanfield Cutoff area. Because algae can grow or move locations, it is advised to use caution in all areas of the lake. It is also advised that the public is to avoid any part of the lake that looks very thick with algae. Use extra caution with children and dogs, particularly at the shoreline in shallow water when algae tend to sit.
The District recommends you use common sense and if it looks green and you observe a scum on the surface don’t go in or let your pets drink the water. If your pet goes in or you just want to take a ski run, take a shower and rinse your dog off. Ingesting the algae is never healthy and could cause stomach issues for you and your pet. Dogs will lick themselves clean after swimming in the lake and combine that with drinking the water will magnify the toxins in the body. Remember, the Big Bear Municipal Water District does take water samples weekly or more often depending on conditions but the blooms can come very quickly and unannounced. So, the bottom line is to use common sense and if it looks uninviting or you are uncertain, it probably should be avoided.
The state authorities have used a different method of testing than the Municipal Water District and took samples in different locations. Both are accurate measurements of data. The Municipal Water Districts testing showed safe samples and no harmful levels of bacteria. All but one sample by the state showed non-detect levels of Anatoxin. A few of their samples showed a presence of Microcystin, so no matter where visitors swim/enter the water, our advice is to be sure to wash off and do not consume lake water.
Lastly, if you have any concerns, please call Big Bear Municipal Water District’s main office at (909)866-5796 and be very cautious of using social media as your only source of information.
We gathered some helpful information and provided it below for you from California Department of Water Resources
What are signs of Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs)?
- Small blue-green, green, white, or brown particles in the water
- Streaks in the water that look like spilled paint
- Mats, scum, or foam at the surface or along the shoreline
- Can have an odor described as gasoline, septic, or fishy
What are the Dangers?
- Some algal blooms can produce toxins that are harmful to people and pets
- Dogs and small children are most likely to be affected by HABs due to their smaller body size and probability to play in the water for longer periods
- Exposure to toxic cyanobacteria, can cause eye, nose, mouth or throat irritation, headache, allergic skin rash, mouth ulcers, vomiting, diarrhea, and cold- and flu-like symptoms
How can I be exposed to algal toxins?
- People can be exposed to the toxins during swimming or other water contact and when they accidentally swallow lake water
- During waterskiing and jetskiing, the toxins can become airborne and be inhaled
- People can also be exposed to toxins by eating shellfish and fish from affected waterbodies
- Dogs or other animals can become ill if they eat scum or mats in the water or on the shore, drink the water, or lick their fur after going into the water
What precautions should I take if I see a potential HAB?
- Follow all posted advisories
- Stay away from algae and scum in the water and on shore
- Watch children and pets closely
- Do not let pets and other animals go into the water, drink the water, or eat scum and algal accumulations on the shore
- Do not drink the water or use it for cooking
- Wash yourself, your family, and your pets with clean water after water play
- If you catch fish, throw away guts and clean fillets with tap water or bottled water before cooking
- Avoid eating shellfish from affected areas