Climate

Unseasonal Toxic Algae Bloom In California Lake Kills Three Dogs

CREDIT: AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari

A toxic algal bloom in a California lake has led to the death of three dogs, and officials think that the state’s dry, warm weather is helping fuel the bloom.

The dogs all drank from Lake Chabot, a man-made lake in Alameda County, CA that’s been experiencing a bloom of toxic cyanobacteria — or blue-green algae — since last September. Lake Chabot Regional Park has put up a notice warning people avoid touching or wading in the water and to ensure that their pets or kids don’t get near the water either.

“Our hearts go out to the owners of these dogs that have passed away. It’s tragic,” Carolyn Jones, a spokesperson for East Bay Regional Parks, said. “We are putting up more signs and making them more obvious to keep dogs away from the water.”

Jones also said that this is the first time in 80 years that the East Bay Regional Park district had experienced an algal bloom. In general, though, algal blooms aren’t uncommon in California lakes, but they usually happen over the summer. Lack of rainfall and warm weather likely helped fuel the bloom, according to officials cited by the AP.

Drought — like the one-in-1,200-year one California is experiencing — and other climate-change-fueled extreme weather patterns can exacerbate algal blooms. According to Hans Paerl, Kenan Professor of Marine and Environmental Sciences at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, harmful cyanobacteria grows better in warmer waters than some other types of algae. Paerl told ThinkProgress last September that periods of heavy rainfall followed by extreme drought create conditions especially ripe for cyanobacteria development, because the rain will wash more nutrients — like bloom-enhancing phosphorus — into bodies of water, and the drought will warm the water to levels that fuel more blue-green algae growth.

“So it’s bad enough that we have too many systems that we have too high a nutrient load in them — or too much nutrients coming in — that’s causing the blooms, but secondly, climatic change — particularly warming — can lead to exacerbation of those blooms,” Paerl said.

Cyanobacteria blooms can pose major dangers for animals and people; in addition to killing dogs and livestock, the blooms can inhibit the growth of or kill fish and plankton. But even if people and animals manage to avoid the affected body of water, the blooms can also be a major inconvenience. Last August, about 400,000 people in Toledo, OH couldn’t drink their water after toxic algae bloomed in Lake Erie. And in September, hot, dry weather in Oregon likely helped fuel a blue-green algae bloom in the state’s Willamette River — a bloom that the state’s Department of Environmental Quality said was unusual, since blooms usually occur in lakes and ponds, instead of major rivers.

If California’s drought did contribute to the bloom in Lake Chabot, residents may have to keep their guard up against blooms for a while, as the state’s drought doesn’t look like it’s letting up yet. Last month marked the second year in a row that California recorded its driest January — a month that’s typically one of the state’s wettest — on record.