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Potentially harmful algal blooms found in Hill County


August 16, 2019

Havre Daily News/Ryan Berry

A small clump of blue-green algae floats near a dock at Beaver Creek Reservoir Thursday south of Havre.

Hill County Health Department Public Health Director Kim Larson said the department has received some photographs which show what could be a toxic harmful algal blooms on both Beaver Creek Reservoir and Bear Paw Lake south of Havre.

"They look pretty similar to the harmful algal blooms we've had in the past," she said.

Harmful algal blooms, commonly called blue-green algae, can potentially be harmful to both people and animals, she added.

The blooms are created by accumulations of cyanobacteria and can create toxins, Larson said. She said that if the toxins make contact with the skin they could possibly cause skin irritation, rashes, hives or blisters on the skin. If they are ingested it could also cause liver and kidney issues, respiratory symptoms and in some animals can cause seizures. 

Larson said she sent a report to the state and put up signs around Beaver Creek Reservoir, also known as First Lake, warning people to stay out of the water where the algae is present. She added that they have not run any tests yet and they have not heard back from the state about the report, but the state will determine if the algae needs to be tested.

She said Fish, Wildlife and Parks, which operates Bear Paw Lake, also known as Second Lake, was putting warning signs up there.

People are warned to use caution at those lakes to avoid exposure to potentially harmful algal blooms and to keep pets out of the areas where they see algae.

"If I test it right now, the bacteria may not be creating a toxin right now, but in an hour they could be," she said.

She added that Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is looking into Bear Paw Lake.

The algae is naturally occurring and also breaks down naturally, if conditions are good, Larson said. If an area has elevated levels of nutrients, such as runoff from fertilizer or grazing areas, along with has warmer temperatures, stagnant still water and sunlight the algae could grow rapidly.

The algae can be identified by its colors, like pea soup or grass clippings, and an oily ring around the algae, she said, adding that the algae also floats on top of the water.

"It has a very distinct look to it," Larson said.

If anyone spots the blue-green algae they should by no means touch it or be near it. They should report it immediately to the county.

She added that the Hill County Health Department has put up signs warning people of harmful algal blooms since June because for the past three to four years the area has had at least one bloom every year. She said once a harmful algal bloom occurs in an area it is more likely it will return every year.

Some research has shown that a slight climate change, in some areas causing an increase in temperature and decrease in precipitation, has been followed by an increase in harmful algal blooms across the country, she said. 

For more information or to report a harmful algal bloom, people can call the Hill County Health Department at 400-2415 or go online to https://dphhs.mt.gov/publichealth/epidemiology/hab/.


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