Blue-green algae lingering into fall

Published: Oct. 13, 2021 at 3:54 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - There’s a boom in cyanobacteria blooms this fall. Our Melissa Cooney learned what’s behind the uptick in the toxic blue-green algae and how to report it.

Austin Hart was basking in the 70 degrees October temperatures on his boat near Perkins Pier in Burlington but was disappointed to learn of cyanobacteria blooms spotted in the area last week. “I’m worried about the quality of water in the lake generally,” said the Burlington resident. “I think of it as something that happens more with warm water.”

Most of the Vermonters we spoke with Wednesday said they were surprised that blue-green algae was spotted in the fall, but Lori Fisher with Lake Champlain Committee, says they’ve watched the problem pop up later and later in the season. Fisher was doing her weekly cyanobacteria check n days the lake is actually quite warm right now and it’s only getting warmer. “As our climate warms, this is one of the examples of the devastating effect climate change has on the ecosystem,” Fisher said.

She says they received 119 reports last week of cyanobacteria blooms in Lake Champlain and another 21 in Lake Mempremagog. “We used to end our monitoring season around Labor Day. In part, that’s because when many of our recreation areas close, but it was also because we didn’t necessarily see that many blooms after that,” Fisher said.

“The last time -- it sounds like it was 2019 when we saw the fall blooms -- but it’s just a little different because we think of cyanobacteria with those lazy 90 degree summer days and not our fall days,” said Cindi Wight, director of Burlington ParksRecreation and Waterfront. She says a hurdle with fall blooms is warning the community because they don’t have the staff to put up warning signs once the swimming season is over. “The community’s letting us know, saying, ‘Hey, I saw a bloom at Oakledge, check it out,’ recognize it, and then we put it on social media.”

Cyanobacteria can be harmful to people and animals. To check the water yourself, Fisher says you can fill a jar up with lake water and look for bluish-green dots that will rise to the top. Then report it to the Lake Champlain Committee, health department, or your town.

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