During the summer, many Idahoans head to the water, but algae outbreaks can stop them from a relaxing day cooling off.
Algae blooms typically occur in slow-moving bodies of water, like lakes, but can occur in rivers as well. They can be harmful to human health and are especially dangerous for animals. Last year, it is suspected algae blooms led to the deaths of a horse and two dogs in Idaho.
Josh Johnson, central Idaho director for the Idaho Conservation League, said it is important to identify the toxic outbreaks, and to focus on what causes them.
“We don’t often talk as much as about why are these happening,” Johnson explained. “And some things we can’t control, like it’s going to be hot and sunny in the summer, but we can control the amount of nutrients that go into the water.”
Johnson noted the origins of nutrient sources depend on the water body, but can come from agricultural runoff, waste from dairies and feedlots — especially in southern Idaho — or excess fertilizer on people’s lawns. In the past two years, there have been 35 health advisories for algae blooms in Idaho.
Johnson pointed out states like Utah provide funding to track algae, but it is not the case for Idaho’s environmental quality and health departments.
“This might be surprising to folks, given that this is a pretty big issue,” Johnson stressed. “But right now, those agencies do not have any dedicated funding for toxic algae.”
Johnson argued Idaho agencies are unable to get out ahead of the problem.
“There is no proactive monitoring of water bodies, even though we know the same water bodies, year after year, have toxic algae outbreaks,” Johnson emphasized. “The agencies only have the resources to collect samples once a suspected outbreak has already occurred.”
He added people can go to the Idaho Conservation League website to find ways to identify and report algae blooms.