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Issued jointly from the
Department of Health and Human Services – Division of Public Health
Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality
Nebraska Game and Parks Commission
UN-L Water Quality Extension Program

October 1, 2010

Brian McManus, Department of Environmental Quality, (402) 471-4223
Marla Augustine, HHS Communications and Legislative Services, (402) 471-4047
Dave Tunink, Game and Parks Commission, (402) 471-5553
Tadd Barrow, UN-L Water Quality Extension, (402) 472-7783

Public Advised to Use Caution in Nebraska Waterbodies Even Though Health Alerts Have Ended for the Year

With the end of September, the health alert program for toxic blue-green algae has officially ended for the year. However, the final weekly toxic algae sampling for 2010 was collected at 46 public lakes during the last week of September, and the results warrant an advisory to the public.

Testing the week of September 27th showed Red Willow Reservoir near McCook and Willow Creek Lake near Pierce to be above the state’s health alert threshold of 20 parts per billion (ppb) of total Microcystins (a toxin released by certain strains of blue-green algae).

Merritt Reservoir in Cherry County and Kirkman’s Cove near Humboldt were below the threshold this week for the second consecutive week, which means the previous health alert has been lifted at those lakes. Lakes that are on health alert must have two consecutive weeks of readings below the threshold before the alert is discontinued.

The toxic health alert program runs during the recreation season (May 1 through September 30), so any health alerts officially end on Oct. 1. Final sampling results are posted on NDEQ’s web site, Toxic algae sampling will resume in May 2011 and will continue until the end of September 2011.

Even though no official health alert has been issued, signs may still be posted to advise the public to use caution. Recreational boating and fishing are permitted, but the public is advised to avoid activities that could involve accidental ingestion of water and to avoid full immersion in water. People can still use the public areas for camping, picnics and other outdoor activities.

The state reminds people that even though the recreation season is ending, they should continue to be aware of signs of blue-green algae if they visit Nebraska lakes. Toxic strains of blue-green algae can have a thickness similar to motor oil and often looks like thick paint in the water. The color can be neon green, pea green, blue-green or reddish-brown. Algae blooms usually accumulate near the shoreline where pets and toddlers have easy access and the water is shallow and more stagnant. It is important to keep a watchful eye on children and pets so that they do not enter the water. Of particular concern at this time of year are hunting dogs, either during hunting or in practice for the hunting season.

(For more information about potential health effects of toxic blue-green algae, what to look for, and steps to avoid exposure, please refer to the attached pdficon.gif (914 bytes)Fact Sheet.)