Spotting blooms: What you need to know about cyanobacteria and beaches

Published: Sep. 2, 2021 at 5:08 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Cyanobacteria continues to shut down beaches every summer on Lake Champlain. In fact, it’s more frequent now than it was decades ago.

Alec Kaeding and his team with Burlington Parks, Recreation and Waterfront are the first line of defense against cyanobacteria.

Each day they patrol the beaches to see if they can spot any blooms.

“We take that responsibility very serious,” Kaeding said. “We spend a lot of time, my staff and I, checking the water to make sure it’s safe.”

Cyanobacteria blooms are especially dangerous because they can produce toxins that can be extremely dangerous to people and animals.

Once Kaeding sees a bloom, he has a rapid test kit to check whether it is cyanobacteria.

“We start the day checking the water because cyanobacteria is very visual. If we see it, we close the beach immediately because you don’t know if it’s toxic or not,” Kaeding said.

Lori Fisher with the Lake Champlain Committee says stagnant water above 75 degrees is where blooms can thrive, especially on sunny days. In fact, they are more frequent now than decades ago.

“One of the reasons we are probably seeing an increase in blooms in the last 20 years, not only in the Lake Champlain region but around the country and around the world, is because of climate change and the increase in temperatures that we are seeing,” Fisher said.

The blooms can be many different colors, most frequently in Lake Champlain, it’s blue-green. It can appear like a paint spill or surface scum.

The bacteria feed off nutrients, especially phosphorus which can be found in runoff from farms, stormwater, urban areas and even just fertilizer and lawn treatments. That’s why it’s important for property owners to manage their runoff.

“If you have property, you want to retain that water and absorb it rather than having it run off,” Fisher said. “You want to be mindful of not using nutrients on your lawn or garden unless a soil test tells you you need that.”

Ultimately, if you are suspicious there could be a bloom, do not let your family or pets in the water and report it to the local municipality.

Click here for the current status of Burlington beaches and much more on cyanobacteria.

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