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Toxic algae not found in Flathead Lake

Posted at 2:42 PM, Sep 25, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-25 16:42:48-04

Some initial reports earlier this year claimed that blue green algae was spotted near Big Arm, but scientists have recently found no evidence of the toxin in the Flathead Valley.

“Blue green algae is a native constituent of all fresh water ecosystems, even in Montana. So, they’re not a non-active species or anything,” said Hannah Riedl, a water quality specialist for Montana Department of Environmental Quality. “And, we’ve been having blue green algae blooms documented as early as the mid-1900s.”

Blue green algae hasn’t been discovered in Flathead Lake, but Riedl said White Sandy Beach near Helena and Cow Creek Reservoir in Blaine County both tested positive for toxic algae earlier this year.

Matthew Ferguson with the Department of Public Health and Human Services says that Flathead Lake is unique in that it has a special ecosystem that discourages toxic algae.

“The nutrient values are naturally just really low, and algae aren’t going to flourish in the lake. So, the water is usually pretty clear,” Ferguson said.

According to Ferguson and Riedl, warm, stagnant water and hot weather typically encourage toxic algae blooms.

If you do see algae blooms looking like or resembling grass clipping or green latex paint, report your findings to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality immediately.

Toxic blooms can be harmful to both humans and animals. “Nausea and vomiting,” Ferguson said. “Other symptoms of course are skin irritation.”

Riedl says these toxic blooms could also cause seizing in animals. As a precaution, Ferguson and Riedl encourage people to check bodies of water for any of signs of toxic algae before any recreation.