What you need to know about blue-green algae at beaches

Published: Aug. 7, 2020 at 6:43 AM EDT|Updated: Aug. 7, 2020 at 5:14 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - As the beautiful weather moves into our region, so do blue-green algae blooms. Our Christina Guessferd reports on what you need to know about safe swimming this weekend.

Just 24 hours ago, the Burlington Parks, Recreation, and Waterfront Department closed North Beach, Texaco, Leddy and Oakledge Cove due to big cyanobacteria blooms.

Now, officials say it's safe to swim everywhere but here Blanchard and Oakledge beaches.

8/7 Water Quality Update: All beaches are now OPEN, with the exception of Blanchard/Oakledge beach which remains closed due to cyanobacteria.

Posted by Burlington Parks, Recreation & Waterfront on Friday, August 7, 2020

“We come here probably once or twice a week,” said Jeffrey Hennessy of Burlington.

'At least like 20 or 30 times a summer," said Brady Blow of Richmond.

These North Beach-goers know these waters well. Some feel safe taking a dip.

"Yeah, I plan on going in the water today," Hennessy said.

"Usually doesn't concern me. I try to look up sometimes before I come to know if the water's going to be OK or not," said Charlotte Key of Burlington.

But because those notices can change from one day to the next, others prefer to sit on the sand.

"I'm probably definitely not going into the water today," Blow said.

"I'm just going to stay away from the water, just came out to have a good time in the sun, really," said Nick Wilson of Burlington.

"I'm already skeptical about the lake anyway," Blow said.

Skepticism spurred by the ever-changing Lake Champlain water quality.

"Every day our staff are doing a visual scan for cyanobacteria," said Cindi Wight, the executive director of Burlington, Parks, Recreation and Waterfront.

If the staffers spot cyanobacteria blooms, they immediately close the beach. Wight says, per state guidelines, they'll take a water sample no earlier than 10:30 a.m. the next morning. Results come back in about 40 minutes.

Because the breeze over Lake Champlain moves the water constantly, it's rare a bloom will stay in that spot for very long.

"It's not too often that we get those still days, a still day upon a still day upon a still day where the bloom will just hang in there," Wight said.

The staff checks for E. coli twice a week but Wight says beaches have been in the clear all summer.

Still, she says the unusually warm and shallow waters this year contribute to the cyanobacteria sightings. But many beach-goers say if there's no sign of blue-green algae, they're happy to hop in.

"I think if I saw something I would probably be a little bit scared, but we didn't really see anything today," said Ali O'Leary of Burlington.

The frequent fluctuations have others a little more hesitant.

"The other day we went to the beach and this one was closed but we went to Leddy and it was open and we swam, so that's kind of sketchy because it's like a mile away," said Ellice Murphy of Burlington.

Burlington officials say the fastest way to find beach updates is through the Parks and Rec Department’s social media pages like Twitter and Facebook.

The staff also sends out notices through the state alert system when any one of the beaches is closed.

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