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County waterways positive for blue-green algae

By Sue Sitter - | Jul 24, 2021

Sue Sitter/PCT Waterfowl gather on a small area lake shrunken in size even more by exceptional drought in Pierce County.

Two Pierce County lakes have tested positive for toxic blue-green algae, and officials with the North Dakota State University Extension are on the lookout for more.

Tests by the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality on Buffalo Lake and Antelope Lake, located in southern Pierce County, turned up positive for suspected blue-green algae, prompting advisories issued and posted by the agency.

According to information published by the DEQ, the algae produces toxins harmful to people and animals.

“Almost every year in North Dakota, a few cases of pet and livestock deaths occur due to drinking water with (harmful algae blooms),” the DEQ’s information said.

Some of the descriptions of the algae given by the DEQ include “spilled green paint, green cottage cheese, grass clippings, scum or green pea soup.”

“It is a nasty bluish green film on the water and with these hot temps it can really bloom fast,” said Brenden Klebe, Pierce County NDSU extension agent. “With our upcoming temperature outlook I think it really could be a problem in Pierce County,” Klebe added.

Klebe and Miranda Meehan, disaster education coordinator for NDSU Extension, said farmers and ranchers should be on the lookout for possible blooms and monitor their livestock water sources regularly.

Meehan said the blooms of the algae, called cyanobacteria, “are caused by excess levels of nutrients, specifically nitrogen and phosphorus. The most common sources of excess nutrients in North Dakota are runoff or soil erosion from fertilizer and manure. The presence of excess nutrients in combination with hot, sunny day can result in toxic cyanobacterial blooms.”

“The hot, dry conditions associated with the drought have created the ideal conditions for the development of blooms,” Meehan added.

“If a rancher suspects cyanobacteria in the water, they should take actions to reduce the risk of livestock consuming the water,” Meehan said. “Some options include: Create a designated drinking area where the risk of cyanobacteria is minimal; use water from other sources following periods of hot, dry weather; pump water from the center of the water body well below the surface, where the bacteria are unlikely to concentrate, to a water tank.”

“I would recommend fencing around the water source,” Klebe said. “I know on a year like this it is tough to be fencing around water sources but we don’t need to lose cattle because of bad water.”

Klebe said he’s encountered other water quality issues caused by drought conditions in the area.

“I have done over 120 water quality tests for ranchers in the area for sulfates and total dissolved solids,” Klebe added. “I started back in April and the conditions have slowly gotten worse with both the levels of sulfates rising and the total dissolved solids rising as well.”

Klebe added, “A common question I’ve had lately is would a storm help the water quality and to that I can’t say it would. We would need 6-plus inches of rain to help some of these water sources and that might not even get them back to safe conditions.”

Klebe said water quality “varies by location throughout the county so I can’t say one part of the county is worse than the other. I’ve gotten bad water and good water tests back from all over the county and from a lot of different ranchers.”

” The best thing to do is be proactive and if you notice the cattle don’t seem to be using the water source, I suggest bringing it in to be tested,” Klebe added.

Information from NDSU and the DEQ recommends ranchers who suspect their animals have come in contact with the algae contact their veterinarians.

A paper by Meehan and Michelle Mostrom of NDSU published on the school’s livestock publications page lists symptoms of cyanobacterial poisoning, which include weakness, staggering, pale mucous membranes, bloody diarrhea, difficulty breathing and more. The information said symptoms “usually appear within 20 minutes of ingestion.”

County residents seeking heat relief at area lakes should watch for posted advisories from the DEQ and suspicious patches growing on the water.

Posted advisories recommend avoiding “swimming, waterskiing or tubing” in the water, preventing small children or pets from ingesting the water and rinsing off with non-lake water after entering the water. The advisories also recommend keeping boats and other watercraft away from “areas of scum.”

“Contact your health provider or veterinarian if you or your pet become ill after swimming,” the DEQ advisory reads

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